A preacher friend of mine started his Christmas Eve sermon years ago by saying, “I really need Christmas this year; I’m convinced we all really need Christmas this year.” The clarity of that voice resonates deep within me this year.
Right now, the world, both near and far, is filled with chaos. The plight of Syrians, the despotism in North Korea, and the conflicts in Nigeria and South Sudan are among many that are physically far away, but feel so near. Legislators in Lansing and Washington have failed the citizens they are charged to represent in myriad ways. They have forsaken the common good and statecraft, eagerly trading these things because keeping their job is more important than doing their job. There is the shadowy, lingering prevalence of events of pubic mayhem evidenced by the anniversaries observed in Lockerby and Newtown. Personal things touch us and weigh upon us. The illnesses and deaths of loved ones disquiet us more than Marley’s ghost. Our individual and collective fears and failures, such as how, in a post-2008 world, to provide education for your child; care for an aging parent; contemplate retirement, or come out of retirement to work again because the pension for which you toiled for thirty years has been squandered by others’ greed and deception weigh on us.
We need Christmas, but we don’t need the world-version: a sentimental feel-good-aspirin that will wear off before the New Year or possibly the Feast of Stephen. We don’t need to be caught and ground by the gristmill of the seasonal retail-machine. We don’t need the dysfunctional expectations that heighten sadness or deepen depression.
I need Christmas because I need to know that God is, in every way, connected with the human experience. I need God in the midst of the chaos. I need to know that I, and others, are loved so much that God Incarnate came into our world, even my world, to be with me and be present to me and to all of us. Christmas gets romanticized, but here’s the truth: Herod’s world was a violent and despotic world. Statecraft, if you could call it that, was generally conveyed by the sword and spear. Homelessness, hardship and daily survival were real experiences for Jesus’ family. I need Christmas because I need to know that God knows. I need it to witness to me, and to anyone with longing, that God Incarnate enters into this with us, and meets each of my steps, our steps, in daily companionship.
There is a name for this. It is Emmanuel; it means God with us. That’s why I need Christmas: to be refreshed and reconnected with the truth that God is with us! That’s why we sing with hope, and pleading, and expectation, O come, O come, Emmanuel. And it is why the Cathedral Community and I want to share this Christmas with you. Come and join the Cathedral Community as we seek and celebrate this Christmas. Come, hear of Jesus; discover or rediscover – God with us – Emmanuel.
Christmas blessings and peace,