Now is the Time – 12-24-15

Christmas Eve Reflection: Now is the Time

In 1975 when I was 22 years old, I spent 6 months in Israel studying Hebrew and working on a kibbutz. I learned a lot about Israel and about myself during that time. One of the things I had not totally anticipated was that being so far away I would not be able to go home to Cincinnati for Christmas for the first time in my life. Christmas was not a big deal on a Jewish kibbutz of course, but we who were from the US felt a little out of place.

It was warm on Christmas Day, which was part of the disorientation though it does not seem so strange this year. I don’t know if you have been away from family on Christmas, away from home, away from traditions, away from what you are used to – it can be a little disconcerting, a little disorienting. Part of me was back in those past Christmases and part of me would never go back as I changed and grew.

I think of that experience in relation to our Christmas reading from the gospel of Luke this year. Joseph and Mary were on the road, away from home, forced by the government, along with many others. In the first century, the Roman empire took 20 percent of the people away from their homes. Whole villages of people were displaced, large numbers of people were on the move involuntarily, away from home, trying to survive, trying to keep their home traditions, but forced to adapt and change. The story of Joseph and Mary with no place in the inn to have their baby, was a story that many people could relate to.

 

At St. Luke for the last 4 weeks, we have been singing and studying African American Christmas spirituals, like ‘Rise Up Shepherd and Follow’, and “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”   [Many Africans believed that their ancestors lived on the land, that they were supposed to take care of the land for their ancestors, so that being stolen from their land, being away from their homes was not just disorienting, it was a tragedy.] Christmas was a time when the guard of the masters let down. It was a carnival time and there was a lot of drinking and carousing and it was a good time to escape slavery, a good time to run. We learned that enslaved theologians wrote these songs with hidden messages, hiding messages they weren’t allowed, in the Christmas story that they were allowed to tell.

The hidden messages are kind of obvious, if you think about it. “Rise Up” follow the star. “Go, Children.” Go where I send thee. “Go, tell it on the mountain.” Enslaved theologians identified with story of Moses and the Messiah, the displaced holy family on the move. They encouraged each other to have hope in a hopeless situation, to go if they could, and if they couldn’t, to know that they had a home even though they had been stolen from their home. They encouraged each other that even if they died escaping or they died in slavery, that they had a home in Jesus, they had a home in God in heaven, they had a home in each other, that they had a home in their community of hope.

 

Now is the time, they told each other. Now is the time to move. Now is the time to claim our freedom. Now is the time to make things right.

Tonight is a celebration of God’s birth into our time, not just into a time long ago, not just into the church we grew up in. Tonight is a celebration of Christ’s birth now, into our places of hopelessness and fear.

So many things are changing that it’s easy to fall into despair when we are far from home, or when even our home is changing and evolving. Now is the time of Christ’s birth among us and within us. Now is the time to move. Now is the time to claim our freedom. Now is the time to make things right.

Tonight we celebrate that God has not left us, will never leave us, will always be our home.

Tonight we sing with the angels. 238 Angels We Have Heard on High

 

Extinguishing the four Advent candles:

Hope – a piece of our hope dies in us when we hear about yet another mass shooting – in Nigeria, Lebanon, Paris, or San Bernardino, or Colorado Springs

Peace – Our hopes for peace, which struggle to burn very bright even in the best of times, get blown out, when we work for an end to gun violence and seem stymied at every turn

Joy – It is hard to keep the light of joy burning in us when people we love are struggling with addiction, hurting themselves and us.

Love – We want to keep loving people, but we get scared and want to protect our borders, protect what is ours, protect our home, limit our love to the few we can call family or close family.

Lighting our candles from the Christ Candle:

Every year, I come to this place in the darkness, remembering hard events of the past year, and difficult truths about our human condition. I’m not trying to be depressing. In fact, this is one of the most hopeful times of the year, when we face all the ways we and humanity falls short, and we realize it doesn’t all depend on us. Even as the light of human hope, peace, joy and love gets extinguished, there is a light beyond us being born, a light within and among us being re-kindled, a light we call by many names. We recognize that light in the baby Jesus. We recognize that light in the babies born in our midst in the last year. We find that light in the darkness in the grown Jesus who calls us to love beyond our families, even to love our enemies. We find that light in the darkness in the Living God who inspires us to work for peace and joy for all God’s people, with communities of people of other churches, synagogues and mosques. We sing that light together this evening as we sing with the angels that beautiful song recognizing the One who is born in the silence of this night, Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace.