12-24-19 Christmas Eve
First Congregational Church
December 24, 2019
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Just after the dinosaurs became extinct and I was young, there were certain things that came with the lead-up to Christmas in the family. My great-aunt Eileen would deliver the plate of cookies and candies. If you were lucky and got the plate early, sometimes the fudge would still be soft and the divinity would be edible.
After Aunt Eileen’s “gift”, Grandma Anderson would drop off hot-crossed buns. Now there was a wonderful bakery in Litchfield, MN, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t get them from the bakery. And where ever they came from, I would guess that they were delivered to the store two or three months ahead of the time we would get them. Maybe a microwave would have softened them up, had microwaves been invented back then. I doubt much could have been done to enhance the hard dried fruits sown into the dry bread. The only saving grace about those hot cross buns was the frosting crosses. Even dried out frosting can be good when the rest is so not good. But bless all the hearts of those who give gifts with the best of intentions, because sometimes, their gifts live long into the future.
Now that all of you are settled in, and not much more can be done in preparing for this infamous holiday - at least in the next moments - we all have the opportunity to hear the prophecies and birth announcement and news reports of that first Christmas night.
I often struggle with changing this service, except that hearing the familiar words, singing the cherished carols and being together in this particular way brings a comfort and connection and grounding that can’t be obtained in any other way.
While we worship, in a serene sense of timelessness, there is still upheaval - within hearts and beyond these walls, not so unlike some 2,000 years ago. Much as we’d like the story to be different, Joseph and Mary still had to travel nearly 68 hard and dusty miles to fulfill a decree made by people in high places. The savior born one night would eventually die by crucifixion. The hot-crossed buns remind us of the dichotomy of this season - that Christ was not born between a shimmering Christmas tree and a cozy fire crackling on the hearth, but in the midst of animals and dung and in a world loaded with violence, as Juergen Moltmann once said.
As Scott Hoezee once said, God did not send Christ to be born into this world because it was a place of peace and goodness that would somehow mirror the peace and shalom the Son was meant to bring. God sent Jesus to this world precisely because it lacked those qualities. The world did not have to look like a Hallmark Christmas card as a precondition for the incarnation of God’s Son. Jesus was born into a world where people were at each other’s throats as often as not - a world agitating for change but unable to find words or actions with any hope of generating any real—much less lasting—change. And that’s not to mention personal sorrow and sadness and all the other dark places of life.
It is not because all is so dire in our world, that the Christ is born once again, but precisely in the face of life - all of it, so that by the Spirit of God, we can hear God speaking words of hope, of peace, of joy that can reset our souls and hearts and minds as the people God aspires of us - right where we are - right now. So snuggle in and let all the pieces of this night fall together in just the way that God needs them to land. Amen.
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Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.