Christmas Eve Welcome
It is a pleasure to welcome you on this Christmas Eve
to the United Parish in Brookline,
whether this is your first time in the door
or the place where you worship every Sunday
or anything in between.
Regardless of what star you followed,
what flocks you’ve been tending,
what angels you heard – even if that angel was a coercive loved one guilting you into coming --
what gifts you brought,
I invite you to take a breath.
Just relax a second.
You made it here.
Leave behind all your lists, all your preparations, all your worries.
Because once again, we are about to tell the story.
It’s a Good News story. One worth re-telling.
As I keep hearing people talking about what unprecedented times we are living in,
I keep thinking, ‘True, and actually every time we live in is unprecedented.’
It makes me wonder what this timeless story sounded like:
in 1776, when revolutionary colonialists were giving their lives in the name of liberty against the tyranny of George III;
or in 1861, when this country was literally coming apart at the seams;
or in 1940, when the world was in chillingly real danger of being overcome by fascism;
or even in 1968, which some of you remember well, when it seemed like the wheels were falling off our nation's cohesiveness.
This story is very different than our usual history of the world.
The story we are used to says
that unwed teenage mothers are careless and irresponsible,
but our story says that she’s clear-eyed and courageous: the mother of God.
The story we are used to says
that real men are not cuckolded by women who claim to “have seen an angel” but put them in their place, and show them who’s boss.
And that in his day, Joseph would have been well within his legal rights to have her stoned to death.
But our story says that such a decent, gentle, loving man who listens carefully to his dreams and respects the integrity of his fiancée will be God’s adopted father.
The world’s story says that a bunch of poor hayseeds, or rednecks,
working the late shift out on the hillside don’t matter much,
but in this story, God sends the angels to tell them the Good News first.
In the world’s story, we use animals for our own voracious desires,
but in tonight’s story, God choses them to be the attendants in the delivery room and the nannies in the first nursery.
In the world’s story, mysterious visitors from the East,
following a star and bearing precious gifts are looked at with suspicion and even derision, and must be a part of some conspiracy,
but in our story they are the wise ones who pay homage to God and end up tricking a duplicitous king.
In the world’s story, we see narcissistic, demagogic, brutal tyrants rise to power
and issue executive orders from their palaces
that will harm and wreak havoc on the most vulnerable,
But in this story, such leaders do not have the last word.
Because, as you know:
the reign of King George III,
the American confederacy,
the Nazi and fascist parties
and our misadventure in Vietnam are no longer,
but you and I are still telling this story.
Sure, those same kind of malevolent powers still raise their heads,
which is why it is ever more important that we retell this story,
that we let it take hold of our hearts and set our souls and wills on fire.
This is a story where Love conquers over Evil.
Where there is strength and courage in vulnerability and choosing to do the right thing.
This is a story about how God broke through to us.
And the real conundrum is that most of the world missed it that first night,
Missed it for centuries,
And yet, it caught hold and we are still telling it.
In fact, we all flocked here again to retell it.
My prayer for us tonight, is that we don’t miss it again.
That we will let this story continue to re-capture our imaginations,
in whatever ways we need it to,
Let God use it to re-frame, re-fashion and transform our lives,
however personal and intimate
public and political
we need it to.
Tonight, I encourage you to look for something new, something you hadn’t noticed, among those things that are familiar.
And by all means, let the music so lovingly prepared for tonight
touch your souls in places where mere words cannot go.
And finally, sing out tonight.
These carols were made for singing.
Please do not be self-conscious about your singing.
We want to hear you, I need to hear you, God needs to hear you.
For whatever reason you came tonight, you are most welcome here.
Your presence matters. Your voice matters.
O, come let us adore him.
Cover Image: Janet McKenzie, The Night Visitors, Collection of Mepkin Abbey. Visit janetmckenzie.com.
Each year, I take inspiration from the work of a wise, creative colleague,
Quinn Caldwell's Advent devotional book "All I Really Want for Christmas".