Christmas Eve
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Luke 2:1-20

May my words be your word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Every year about this time, I read an old book. Originally published in 1941, it’s called The Long Christmas, by Ruth Sawyer. She has gathered stories and legends about Christmas and the Christian faith and presents the short stories as gifts for our imagination. They are stories full of truth. Do not mistake them for dry facts; they carry truths.

In case you are wondering, the title of the book, The Long Christmas, comes from an old way of celebrating Christmas as beginning at the first rooster’s crow on the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle December 21st, and ending with what was then known as Candlemas, or the Blessing of the Candles, on February 2nd.

Ruth Sawyer makes a good case for celebrating the Long Christmas. In 1941, she wrote this, “Never before within our memory has it seemed so important to keep the Long Christmas, to begin early enough and to hold to the festival long enough to feel the deep moving significance of it. For Christmas is a state of mind quite as much as a festival; and who can establish and maintain a state of mind in the rush and turmoil of a single day, or two days?”

Consider the Long Christmas by remembering the Unites States’ entered World War II on December 7, 1941. And consider the effect our entrance into war had on Christmas 1941 and has had on us in the perpetual state of war we live in now.

In the world we live in now, perhaps had we known about it, we might have adopted the Long Christmas. It would serve as an antidote to the shopping and consuming Christmas seems to have become. More importantly, the Long Christmas could serve as a reminder of how precious a gift we received more than two millennia ago: the gift of God in human flesh.

Does this humble birth matter? Yes! Oh yes! What matters is that God became human flesh, born of a human mother, on whatever night it was, and however it occurred. Time stood still long enough for the universe to shake with the knowledge that God became flesh and dwelt among us.

More than anything, the universe shook with the knowledge of what God as human would mean for us:
A God born in a humble place to humble people.
A God born from a human womb, with all the pain and joy that entails. A God who knew and knows what it is to be human.

Perhaps even more important to us is that this event that made the world shake, was shaken to its roots because the human beings gathered were the consummate outsiders. Nearly everyone associated with the birth of Jesus were somehow what my New England and British forbears would have called, “Not quite out of the top drawer.” I would
tell you some of them would never have made it into the chest of drawers at all!

Think about it. The Mother of God: a young, unwed girl. The father-in-name-only: a humble carpenter. The first worshipers this baby had: lowly shepherds, smelled like their own sheep, unable to observe their own religion because of their work. If they were thought of at all, it was as dishonest. They were shunned.

Even those we call the three kings, were probably astrologers from foreign countries, outsiders in the countries through which they traveled.

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus meets the lost, the lowly, the lepers, the outcasts, the unloved, the shunned, the hurting, the bleeding, and everyone else who can’t possibly make into that chest of drawers..

The only God worth having and holding and being held by, is a God who knows what it is to be human. A God who snuggles next to his mother, who sleeps and wakes in his loving father’s arms, feels pain and hunger, knows the wrenching sorrow of betrayal by friends, cries over the loss of someone he loves, and is human and God in one body: a real body, a body like ours.

This is the God who came to us in human flesh, the first and only real Christmas gift. This is the God born this night in the city of David. This is the God for whom angel choirs sang for joy. And the God who sent an angel to shepherds and to us. “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Rejoice! Rejoice! AMEN.

The Very Rev. Nicolette Papanek
1. Luke 2:10b (NRSV)