Dec24ThuA sermon for Christmas Eve 2020 December 24, 2020
“Mommy, is Christmas cancelled this year?”
I’m sure that question has been posed a few times in the last few weeks.
Christmas getting “cancelled” is a popular theme in children’s holiday TV shows.
Often it involves some accident happening to Santa Claus,
with the resulting exclamation:
“Oh, no, Christmas will be cancelled!”
In a (holiday) episode of the hit kids show “Paw Patrol”,
it is revealed that the magic of Santa’s reindeer and flying sleigh
Resides in the large glowing star that is affixed to the front of the sled. When the magic star comes off during a bad blizzard and Santa’s sled crashes because its magic is gone…the reaction from the pups is “Is Christmas cancelled?”
Needless to say, the pups fix the sled, find the star,
and Christmas is un-cancelled.
The idea that “Christmas could be cancelled” because of a lack of Santa’s presents is of course absurd.
We all know that Christmas, whether just the Calendar event on December 25th, or the festivity itself, will obviously still happen,
even if we have no presents, or we’re all alone. (Although it might be not quite as merry.)
But this year we’ve come to experience holidays in new,
before un-imagnable ways, like Halloween without nighttime trick-or-treating.
And so, even without celebrating Christmas Eve service inside the St. Matthews building, Christmas this year definitely is not cancelled,
and will still come.
This year, Christmas is unlike any other.
But perhaps it’s important to remember that the very 1st Christmas
was also unlike any other.
In some ways, Christmas 2020 is similar to Christmas 1.
And as we hear the story of the Nativity of our Lord,
we remember we are not only hearing about an event 2000 years ago,
but we are experiencing it as an occurrence that is happening in our lives now, as we re-member it.
That first Christmas, like today, was filled with global unrest.
There was a decree to travel to one’s hometown for a census.
And these days, we have decrees, and more decrees from provincial and local public health spokespeople.
Back then, everyone waited with bated breath on the pronouncements of the emperor,
These days, we wait with bated breath for pronouncements from the Premier on whether we are going to lockdown or not.
Mary pondered all these things in her heart,
And we ponder too.
We sit with this now, this 2020 reality this Christmas.
Perhaps this year the experience is not just sentimental nostalgia,
Or a longing for past memories long-gone
This year we are creating a real and new memory.
Something we’ve never before experienced.
(Even tonight’s service; a little quieter and distanced from one another,
is a new event.)
Things are so disjointed and strange this December!
As we scratch our heads, it takes effort to make sense of where we’ve been this past year, and where we’re going in the year ahead.
Disappointment is in the air.
For some this Christmas is harder than for others.
For some this is the first time they’ve experienced a lonely Christmas.
And for others, it’s not the first time.
Maybe for some, they are as lonely as ever,
Especially after the loss of a loved one.
As always, there are the haves and have-nots,
the advantaged, and the disadvantaged.
And those differences are made more extreme through the pandemic.
Those who are connected through technology,
or who still have stable jobs,
or live in houses with enough space to safely isolate, are better off.
Those without these safeguards and support mechanisms,
are struggling more.
Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have suffered disproportionately,
While those with existing mental health or substance use issues
have seen their problems grow.
Then there are those who have tested postive for COVID-19 or gotten sick and those who have died from it and those who mourn,
While on the other hand, the vast majority of the population is still personally unaffected.
Back in Jesus’ time there were the haves and the have-nots too.
There were those who already lived in their ancestral home town and didn’t have to travel and find a “place in the inn”.
Their situation was a bit more comfortable than the travelling poor like Mary and Joseph.
Then there were those rich enough to travel with an entourage,
or they were connected to a local family and had less worries amidst the great disruption of the census.
“We’re all in it together” has become the cliché of 2020,
although we all know that some are disrupted more than others.
Solidarity sometimes is only an empty word.
Some are “in it” more than others.
The birth Narrative from Luke is full of
Social and economic justice issues.
The problems of inequality are first laid out in Mary’s Magnificat.
Those with power and money who can self-isolate on a private yacht in the Carribean,
Their problems pale in comparison to migrant workers squashed in a one-bedroom shack in the countryside near Leamington.
While some of us are purchasing the most gifts ever to fill the stockings of our loved ones,
Some have remembered those who are less fortunate,
With increased givings to Food Banks this holiday season,
As people are realizing that those without jobs,
and for others in these precarious times,
That the basic necessities, like food, are harder to come by.
These are fearful times we’re in.
Fear is a normal response to this strange and unaccustomed situation we’re in as a global society.
It is appropriate to be afraid of this virus,
which is so powerful, that it has brought the world to its knees.
And yet, in the midst of the fear, we hear the words of the angel
To those on their knees:
“do not be afraid!”
The promise of divine blessing,
(Do not be afraid!)
The Good news of great joy: a vaccination for all the people!
(well at least those who want it in developed countries.)
The promise of the past two weeks of renewed life, and hope,
re-established community, not quite yet, but soon, just over the horizon!
To you is born this day, the angel proclaims…
A promise of Salvation; of restored community
—God’s people gathered together once again, of families re-united…
how we long for this possibility this Christmas.
The promise of Emmanuel, God with us.
God truly and utterly and completely with us.
So do not be afraid,
We need this message!
Of promise, of hope, of good news of great joy!
We long for that distant far-off time, maybe next Christmas,
where we’ll be back to how things were (more or less).
The anticipation is almost unbearable,
Because the situation is what we can comprehend.
The sign of this promise: is a baby, in a diaper, lying in a manger,
It might as well be the Saviour born in a homeless shelter or a truck stop.
Hope lies in the least expected place,
Hope lies in the place of despair.
That’s the Christian interpretation of reality,
that goes counter to the narrative we are presented in photoshopped magazine covers and big-budget CGI-enhanced superhero movies.
No, the promise is not in a Super Soldier serum (or Beskar armour),
but in something smaller and more mundane and ordinary.
The sign for us, might be
finding time and energy for compassion when you barely have any left to give.
COVID fatigue, is real, and puts people in a fog.
It’s hard to be compassionate of others when it takes so much effort to keep your own life together.
2020 was a hard year
I hear news about struggling local restaurants and businesses…
I know I need to help them, but frankly I don’t care, or I don’t have the room to care, and I feel badly about that.
In times of crisis, there’s only so much capacity for compassion,
and we numb ourselves down to get though it.
But the glimpses of hope do shine through.
And they shine through our divine Saviour,
But also through the little saviours all around us,
teachers, public health officials, nurses and doctors and front-line workers,
Medical technicians and engineers, epidemiologists and viral researchers,
These are our mini-Saviours,
Praise God for the scientists who worked on the vaccines,
and yes, even praise God for the Pharmaceutical companies!
Our response must be to join in with the angels and sing:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,”
As we find meaning and hope in the gloomiest and most depressing time of the year.
It is darkest, they say, right before dawn,
But as the Vaccines are now getting shipped and first VIPs and frontline health care workers are getting their shots,
We praise God where we are, like the shepherds abiding in their fields,
We, though socially distanced, isolating in our homes,
We sing Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace for people whom God favours.
For God favours all people, and offers them peace in the birth of the Messiah.
This Christmas 2020, which by the way hasn’t been cancelled,
We ponder the story of that first Christmas in its similarities to today,
We sing “of the Father’s love begotten,”
Which proclaims the eternal hope beyond the sorrows and tribulations of these COVID times.
This old hymn paints the bigger picture: of God the Alpha and the Omega,
the source, and the ending.
Though we cannot sing together in our sanctuary,
We sing at home with the soloists.
We as followers of that helpless baby,
even in these dismal and fearful times, turn to Praise of our God incarnate,
evermore and evermore.