If you came because you remember that Once upon a time a story captured you, then it’s time for you to hear the story again and let it intrigue and hold you where you are today.
If you came because your mother made you come, I get it. Just ask my kids. But this too will pass, and there are worse things to do with an hour than to let your imagination take flight at the sight of stars, in the warmth of friendly people who love you.
If you came because you are thinking of someone or several someones who are no longer with you physically, but whom you hold in your heart, then know that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and you and your loved ones are welcome here.
If you came just to sit for an hour–something you haven’t done in weeks and you don’t think you can run around any longer–then sit. Feel free to ignore the invitations to stand as we sing, and just rest your weary bones. Crawl into God’s lap and rest.
If you came, a little concerned that the walls of the building might cave in on you because it’s been so long since you’ve been to church, know that these walls have seen far worse cases than you and have been gracious enough to stay standing.
So for whatever reason you have come tonight, know that the God of Love and Light is already here, because this God is present everywhere, even out there in the dark. It is this God, older than time and newborn in this moment, this is the God we worship tonight.
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My colleague Quinn Caldwell* tells his Christmas Eve congregation, “If you came to this place expecting a tame story, you came to the wrong place. If you came for a story that does not threaten you, you came for a different story than the one we tell.”
For this is a story of a teen-age girl and her fiancee who accepted God’s invitation to be part of changing the world. Imagine what might happen if you did the same thing. Because, you know, the invitation to be part of changing the world is extended to each one of us. It may very well get you in trouble, But know that you’re in good company…
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If you came because maybe a few years ago–maybe more than a few years ago–you were a sheep or donkey in a Christmas pageant, know that God loves animals as much as the people and made them the first witnesses to the saving of the world. If you came because you think the earth–this beautiful planet on which we live–is worth saving, along with the people on it, know that you will find friends here on that same mission. You might even think of making yourself a manger, where God’s creatures might be nourished, and a baby with God’s face might find a welcome.
If you came because you think that the kind of people who work the third shift, the ones who do the work many of us would rather not do, the ones who are looked down upon by too many people, if you came because you think those are some of the most interesting folks around, then know that this is a story that says they were the first people God told about the baby, even sent a whole heavenly choir to sing to them. Maybe you think of yourself more as a shepherd…
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If you came expecting to hear about kings from far off lands, come back in two weeks on Epiphany, when we celebrate their arrival at the home of the toddler Christ Child. But if you came because you think there are wise men and women to be found among undocumented travelers from far lands and that they might be able to show you God, then you will love this story.
Maybe you’ve been thinking about really far lands– “A long, long time ago in a Galilee far, far away… If you came hoping it was a galaxy far, far away –how many of you have seen the new Star Wars movie?–then know that this too is “is a tale of adventure and bravery, where strong and gentle people win, and the powerful and violent go down to dust, where the rich lose their money but find their lives and the poor are raised up like kings.”
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If you came because the world is often a bleak and fearful place, then listen to the first words that every angel in this story says, “Fear not. Be not afraid.” Of course, there are some things, some situations, where fear can come in handy–it helps you run away faster, focus in what’s right in front of you, but don’t be fear. Don’t become fear. Don’t let fear run your life.“Fear is the path to the dark side,” as Yoda says in that other story. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
If you came wondering about “God”–Who or What or How that’s all about– If you came because the Force–that energy field created by all living things, that surrounds us and penetrates us, that binds the galaxy together– in that other story intrigues you, know that it is known by many names–some people even use the name God. But I have it on good authority that God is more than energy.
If you came looking for answers, let me suggest instead the wisdom of one wise woman– “After all these years, [she wrote] I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” [Rachel Naomi Remen] If you came looking for hope, peace, joy, and love, I pray that you may have experienced some of that here, but know also that it is in bringing hope, peace, joy and love to others that you will most surely find them.
You are loved and accepted just as you are, this moment, this night, this place on your life’s journey, but know that God loves you too much to leave you unchanged. The journey continues.
If you came to follow the Light, if you came suspecting that a baby might just have something to teach you, if you came willing to discover your true self, which is who God intended you to be, then, ah, my friends, you are in precisely the right place.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark
*The format for this meditation was inspired by Quinn Caldwell’s Dec. 24 entry in All I Really Want. It was interspersed with carols, Scripture readings, and anthems, indicated by “+” .