Please read Luke 2:1-20
Now, children, please listen to me: Your battery-operated candle is NOT to be used as a light-sabre during worship; it is not a Morse Code signal light; I know it is dark in here, but it is also not a flashlight to blind Mommy or Daddy or grandma or your friend across the isle.
Please turn it on at the appropriate time, hold it upright, when and only when we sing: “Silent Night, Holy Night!” It is a holy moment, after all. Try to be holy! Oh, and don’t forget to turn it off when the song is over!
We sing for “silent night, holy night” and yet, there is so much about this time of year that is anything but “silent” and “holy”. We recognize this, too, in our lives. Whether we’re dealing with high levels of anxiety, fear, guilt, or anger; whether we are suffering from physical, mental or emotional illness; whether we grieve our losses, loved ones no longer with us to share this Christmas time; whether our hearts are heavy by all the violence, poverty, injustice and pain we see in our dark world … So much in our lives can naturally rebel against any notion of appreciating any day, let alone this one as “holy”. Heaven can seem so far from us.
We are here tonight, nevertheless, because something about this time, we recognize at a deeper level — deeper even than sentiment and warm fuzzies — is holy. It is a holy moment. We believe that something very special happens this sacred, hallowed Eve, when the thin veil between heaven and earth is for a moment lifted and we receive a taste of the glory and love of God.
So, despite all that is not, let us this night still lift our sometimes meagre voices and sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night” — and maybe holy will happen. When DOES holy happen? Here are some observations about when holy happens.
At Christmas, what is “holy” is associated with a gift – starting with the gift of heaven in Jesus, and all the way to the practice of gift-giving and receiving in general.
As far as gifts are concerned, I admit, I often judge a gift by its functionability. Can I use it? Is it practical? I want to show you a gift I received at my birthday party a couple of months ago; the theme of the birthday party was “tropical beach”. This is a diorama my 7-year old daughter made.
As I received and cherished this gift, I realized that holy just happened — when I appreciated the gift not for its useability but for what it signified, the meaning behind it — which was the love of my daughter.
At Christmas, a baby was given to save humanity. A baby is the gift. Think about it: A baby is quite ordinary; babies are born every day. In that sense a baby is not extraordinary. For the religious of 1st century Palestine, they awaited a Saviour who would be extraordinary — someone who would come in might, in political strength, a Messiah to overthrow the Roman occupiers of their land.
But a baby is vulnerable, weak. And yet we cannot help but love babies. A baby is loved not for what it can do; a baby is loved not because he or she can earn your love. A baby is loved simply for who she or he is. Holy happens when the gift is appreciated for what it is, not for what it can be used. And THAT’S what is important.
Secondly, holy happens when there aren’t any pre-conditions. Holy happens quite unexpectedly. Holy often happens as a surprise, when we haven’t engineered and controlled and manipulated people and events in our lives to produce a holy moment. Think about what brings tears to your eyes — tears of heartfelt joy and even sadness; likely, something happens that you weren’t expecting, when you aren’t trying too hard to make holy happen. For example, reflecting on a manger scene or the lighted star atop the Christmas tree, in a quiet, restful moment.
Sometimes we work ourselves into a tizzy before Christmas because we believe it’s all up to us to make holy happen. Therefore we often suffer the consequences of stress, burn-out, anxiety, and depression.
The good news of Christmas is that it’s not our effort that lifts the veil between heaven and earth to create that holy moment in our lives.
Certainly it involves some effort to come together. There’s surely something to be said about our commitment to be together as a church community. As families and friends you gather over the holidays in your homes to be together — yes.
But it is often in the creative unknowing of just being together where the holy emerges in those unsuspecting moments.
Finally, holy happens when we experience these special days, moments, as something meant “for you”. The diorama wasn’t just a home-made craft of anything. My daughter made me an image of a place I just love to be — a beach, and a tropical one at that. The gift, quite ordinary, quite unuseable, is nevertheless meaningful BECAUSE it is personal, for me.
When we are invited to receive the Sacrament, the Holy Communion, we use simple bread and cup to signify a Holy Meal. It is quite ordinary. Actually, as meals go it’s quite UN-spectacular. And yet, it is meaningful because Jesus, the divine and human Son of God, gave it to us. It is meaningful because the grace, mercy, forgiveness and love that the babe in Bethlehem symbolizes, is given “for you”.
Martin Luther emphasized those words in the Communion: “give for YOU”. Those are likely the most important words spoken in the Communion liturgy: the bread the cup are given personally “for you”.
Holy happens when a direct connection is established between your heart and the very heart of God, through the baby born in Bethlehem — the greatest gift of all.
When we receive a gift for what it is (not for what it does), when we let holy happen (not force it or make it happen), when we appreciate the gift meant for me personally (not just for everyone else) — then, who knows? Holy might just happen.
Here’s the surprise: Because of Christmas holy doesn’t just happen tonight when we sing “Silent Night, Holy Night”, not just only on Christmas and Easter – as holy as those events can be. Holy happens everywhere and at any time; from Monday through Saturday just as much as on Sunday; in your home, at work, at school, in the hockey rink just as much as it does in those “official” holy places.
Holy happens even when we’re not paying attention. Remember, Jesus was born when most of his world was sleeping. So, let our Christmas prayer be that our hearts are open to the holy happening right before our very eyes in every time and every place.