The Rev. Amy Hodges Morehous
Christmas 1, Year A
December 29, 2013
This morning, I'm going to ask you to think back to the anticipation you once had on Christmas morning. When you were a child, how hard was it to go to sleep the night before, hoping there was something wonderful waiting for you the next morning?
My earliest childhood memories of Christmas are happy and warm. Some holidays my family could have a hard time with - Thanksgiving for instance. Thanksgiving, for some reason, always led to huge family conflict. However, usually by Christmas, everyone had made up, and we were looking forward to a happy day. My parents saved up to make birthdays and Christmas special for my sister and for me. We rarely got toys any other time, so in the weeks before Christmas we would be in a fever of anticipation.
My sister and I had our own rooms at one end of the house, and my parents' bedroom was at the other end. Early one Christmas morning - very early, probably 4 or 5 a.m. - my sister came and climbed in bed with me. We whispered excitedly about what would be waiting for us behind the living room door. Then, we came up with an ingenious plan, one we were sure no one else had ever had. We tiptoed to the living room, and saw to our delight that there were presents in the floor, just waiting to be played with.
Surely our parents wouldn't notice if we picked up the boxes and looked at what was inside, right? We went and inspected everything carefully, picking things up, and oohing and ahhing. After several minutes of inspecting everything, we thought, well, they probably won't notice if we just opened a few things. We didn't unwrap any of the wrapped gifts...but perhaps some of the unwrapped toy boxes may have just sprung open, mysteriously. And we played with them. And it was outstanding.
After about an hour or two of playing, we put everything back in the boxes, and did our best to make it look as if it hadn’t been opened. I mean, it's not that hard to fool parents, right? We put all the toys back in their boxes, put everything back where it had been, tiptoed back out of the room, and went back to bed.
The next morning, I think it maybe took less than a minute for my parents to figure out what had happened. My sister and I thought they would be furious with us. And they were angry. But what they really were...was sad. They'd saved up for 6 months, looking forward to sharing that joy and surprise with us...to share that particular wonder of a child of Christmas morning...and my sister and I had kept that all to ourselves.
We didn't set out to damage my parents' Christmas that year...we just didn't understand how much joy we stole that morning until it was too late. My sister and I gave them tearfully heartfelt apologies. We felt lower than dirt - maybe lower than dirt on dirt. My parents forgave us. And I don’t think they ever mentioned it again. We even got to keep the same gifts - my parents didn't even take them away from us, which I still think is another kind of a Christmas miracle. But that year, we missed out on sharing that joy together. We didn't understand that until we kept it all to ourselves.
Christmas is a celebration of a life-altering gift - the gift of God's Son, Jesus, sent to walk among us and be one with us. "God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God."
This past week, we celebrated the great gift of the Incarnation. Now, here we are on Dec. 29th. By now, we've gotten into the post-Christmas letdown. We've had not enough family togetherness. Or we've had far too much. We didn't get the gift we wanted. Or we got exactly the gift we wanted, but it hasn’t measured up the way we thought it would. Five days after Christmas, we wonder if our lives have changed all that much after all.
Christmas is the great feast of the Incarnation, the time we celebrate the gift of the Word made flesh, to celebrate the child who came to earth to be vulnerable just as we are, a child who would grow to know fear and hurt just as we do. Frederick Beuchner reminds us that this is the amazing and perplexing nature of the Gospel - that the Father of all mercies came to earth to put himself at our mercy.
Christmas is the time we celebrate that amazing, improbable gift. What are we doing to share our joy and our wonder in that gift with one another? With our families? With those we work with? With those who have no joy of their own? What are we doing to share that joy and wonder with God, the God who gifted us with the Son, the God who made us, the God who sends us out into the world as his children?
All week I’ve been wondering…. If we aren’t sharing our joy and gratitude, are we as God’s children doing the same thing my sister and I did so many years ago? Are we forgetting that the whole point of God's gifts of joy and wonder and grace is that they are for sharing with God, and with one another?
Why do people come to church on Christmas Eve, and on Easter Day, when they may not come any other time? I think they’re looking for a place to share that joy. They don't want to celebrate it alone. They seek out that joy. They are hungry for it, because we are all hungry for it.
I think it can be easy for us as Christians to be tempted to keep that joy all to ourselves. To pull it out of the box one or two days of the year, and then pack it away again with the decorations. As if it were something that we have to keep contained. Something we must keep from spilling over into the other compartments of our lives.
What keeps us from sharing joy? From sharing wonder? From sharing what God is doing in our lives? Is it our own fear? Our own vulnerability? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid we'll somehow do it wrong? Do we not mention Jesus, because it might leave us open to being hurt? Even though we are here to proclaim transformation of ourselves and of the world, do we hesitate to talk about how we ourselves are being transformed by God working in our lives because we’re afraid we’ll look foolish?
It may sound like foolishness to say, "From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." If so, it is holy foolishness. And to such holy foolishness are we each called.
Joy is not diminished by being shared, but is multiplied. Mercy shared is mercy multiplied. So today I challenge you to be bold and holy fools, and to share God's joy. To share God's grace. To share the mercy of Jesus Christ. To share with someone the story of how God is working in your life this Christmas. Don't wrap it back up, and tuck it away with the tree ornaments, because there is someone across the street who might need it. Someone in your neighborhood who hasn't any. You might even be deeply in need of hearing it yourself.
The true Light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. Who do you know who is in need of the Light? The Word has become flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. You know someone today who is need of grace and truth. How will you meet that someone where they are, and share that with them...today?
This Christmas season, I wish you great joy. Joy, and grace, and mercy and peace of such abundance that your one life cannot contain it. As you have received grace, even grace upon grace, go forth from here, and share that grace and peace, let it spill out into the life of someone who needs it.
God has poured upon each of us the new light of the incarnate Word: May this light, enkindled in our hearts, shine forth in our lives, until it spills out to illuminate the world around us.