Sermon: Candlelight Christmas Eve Service
December 24, 2017
Rev. Lee Spice
Our children are all grown up, now, I remember someone saying, before I went into labour with our first, that labour was kind of like climbing a mountain – each contraction would take you one step closer to your goal. That goal, of course, was the birth of the child. And it’s true – the contractions took me closer and closer to childbirth, and then, our first child was born, and our world changed.
Each contraction was like climbing a mountain. Since those times, in addition to raising our three children, my husband and I have also gotten into the habit of climbing actual mountains, and we’ve discovered something very important.
Reaching the summit is only halfway. My first big mountain was Mt. Rainier, and when we submitted on Day Three, a friend said, “There! Only one more mountain to go!” Of course, she was speaking of the descent – that there was still hard work ahead.
She was right.
I wonder, sometimes, if the Christmas experience is a little like that. I mean, the Christmas experience that we have, here in Alberta. The experience that culminates, if not today, then tomorrow, with the opening of gifts and the sharing of a turkey dinner, for many, at least.
It can feel a bit like climbing a mountain, or, maybe, running a marathon.
It begins, in our church year, with the observation of the Season of Advent. Advent is supposed to be marked by quiet and meditation, but most often it becomes the warning shot over the bow that you’d better get moving, because CHRISTMAS IS COMING!
There follows a flurry of activity. Even if you manage to stay out of the malls, the cyber-universe lights up with decorations and greetings and music and quests for the “real meaning of Christmas.” All this, along with appeals to put the Christ back in Christmas, alongside appeals to remember that not everyone in the world is Christian, so let’s remember the other celebrations at this time of year.
Most people discover that it’s not visions of sugarplums that dance in their heads, it’s lists of gifts to buy, baking to do, calls to make, and events to attend…all of this amplified if you are a church leader or a church musician, because it has to be squeezed in to the cracks between rehearsals, planning and concerts.
Run, run, run! Climb, climb, climb!
And it’s all for this moment.
In the past few years, Ron and I have climbed some mighty big mountains, and, we may already have peaked (so to speak) in terms of the elevations that we’re going to achieve. But there’s a surprising thing that happens at the top.
Perhaps one might envision the celebration at the top – wild whoops of joy and dancing around.
It’s not like that. The summit of a mountain greets you with silence. Oh, there might be a strong wind – so there’s that, but there’s a silence of spirit in those last steps, like the final few pushes before childbirth.
It’s beyond even the breathlessness of exertion – beyond exhaustion.
And congratulations come, not with cheers and whoops, but, rather, with sobs, and tears and embraces.
There’s no orchestra playing the epic soundtrack, but if you listen very carefully, you can hear the whispers of angels saying, “This is a good thing.”
After a bit, you realize that your reality has changed. You pass from the “before” to the “after.” And you get ready to make the descent into the other part of your life.
In lots of ways, you take the mountain with you. This congregation knows, that it makes its way into stories and, heaven help the congregation, endless sermon illustrations.
But it becomes a part of you. It affects everything, from the way you look at pain and struggle, to the way you prepare for challenges, to the way you greet the unexpected in your life.
Our Christmas story tells of a struggle. A young couple, an unexpected pregnancy, a hurried journey to an unfamiliar land that seemed to have no place for them.
It’s a story repeated over and over again in human history, even today.
Our Christmas story, however, barely mentions the birth at all – but we know.
We know that there was struggle, and labour. There was tearing of flesh and gushing of blood. There was fear, and pain, and exertion, maybe even exhaustion, and then, joy.
What was birthed that day was a promise.
It was a promise that The Holy One is amongst us – born into our struggling and broken humanity.
It was a promise that God – however we understand God – is not far, far away…but here, in the blood and the tearing of flesh; in the unexpected circumstances, in the seemingly insurmountable peaks, in the losses, the fears, the pain, and the joy.
Soon, it will be time to turn back from the summit, and to take the mountain experience into the other part of life. It will be time to pass from the “before” to the “after.”
Perhaps, this moment will serve as a reminder of the presence of God in the small things – in the places of joy and pain, and in everyday human experience.
Perhaps, the Holy Birth can be a moment of revelation - a change in perception about pain and struggle and challenge and unexpected circumstances and human living.
But, just for a moment, let us rest here, a bit.
Let the deep breaths of exertion calm, as we listen, in the silence.
God’s labour has produced a miracle.
If you listen very carefully, you can hear the voices of angels whispering, “This is a good thing.”
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