The Wait Is Over – Sermon for Christmas Eve (10 P.M., December 24, 2023)

“The Wait is Over”

LOVE is here—for the world, for the universe that holds all things together. Love is here for the broken, the strong, the oppressed, and their oppressors. Love is here for all. The wait is over. Let us pray—

So here we are. The wait is over. The baby is here. Now what?

The real magic of Christmas is not really that Jesus is born again and again but that we are. The world seems to be unraveling at warp speed these days: one fire, one flood, one tornado, one impeachment Earthquake at a time. People are more in tune with the flavor of the day coming out of Washington than we are with the needs of our communities, families, souls, and spirits. Perhaps this Advent journey was never supposed to lead us to a celebration of either side of the kingdom but to acknowledge the space crying out like a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes directly in between them.

Jesus wasn’t born in a Kingdom palace in Rome, but he also wasn’t born in a poor widow’s bedroom, or a lowly midwife’s arms, in the temple yard, or even in the Innkeepers’ Inn. Jesus, even in infancy, resisted the posturing of either side of the aisle. Instead, he was born smack dab in the middle of Isaiah’s absurd hopes and dreams within the peaceable kingdom of God- where the wolf lay down with the lamb. Sheep and goats, horses and field mice (the ones running around in my kitchen), some hens, and a ram gathered around, stomping on their feces beneath them to witness God’s newly established position in the human story: right between us.

The real magic of the manger is born when we allow it to reposition us, not on one side or the other, but smack dab in the middle, where only God’s Love can bring us together.

The wait is over; yes, the gift has arrived, but the choice has always been ours to see and receive this miracle lying under the tree. If you look too hard, you will surely miss it. It is as tiny and insignificant as our HOPE and Belief allow, but it is as grande and whole and larger than life as our eyes and hearts are willing to imagine:

It is beautiful and strong. It is resilient and vulnerable, and it is whole and competent.

It is the real reason the angels blasted their trumpets that night; it is the only way the shepherds were convinced to leave their flocks, and it will be the only way the power of this young baby will be able to free the lost and broken world. It is the only way Isaiah’s hopes and dreams will become the lived reality of God’s dreams for this world.

The true gift of Christmas??

It is you. It is me. It is your beloved friend and your despised adversary.

It is the LOVE that lives within the seed of every soul, born to set the world free.

This tiny one—like a shoot, a seed- came and grew among us and taught and lived LOVE in the middle of humanity’s messy, unknown, conflicted, lovely, unscripted heart- to show us that we could do the same.

Merry Christmas!

We could leave it all warm and fuzzy, like a baby wrapped up and swaddled in an organic cotton blanket with a cute little hand-knitted cap with a tied ribbon on their little head. So cute!

With our families all nice and safe, sitting around our tables, smitten with eggnog and nostalgia, filling ourselves full to the brim with good food, drink, and the blessings of family and friendship. For some, that reality doesn’t even exist, so we take a risk simply imagining that we can find a place in the picture-perfect story of God’s Love born anew. We build chosen families and carve out meaningful experiences that remind us who and whose we are— perhaps similar to the holy family, whose Christmas was born outside the house, not around a table but a feeding trough—-and it smelled like sheep. Taking a risk for some means believing that we, too, are welcome at God’s table, in God’s house, right here, right now.

Perhaps, taking a risk for us tonight is to open up and receive this life-changing gift anew. I mean “all in,” like Ralphe from “A Christmas Story”. Have you seen how he ferociously unwraps that new Red Rider bee-bee gun? He is all in!! Unwrapping the gift, tearing the paper to shreds, and ready to use it before he can even get his shoes on. He is all in on receiving the gift and using it immediately. Yes, he does shoot his eye out, so I don’t recommend that.

If we decide to be all in, to let LOVE in, not merely as a Christmas bystander of traditions with nicely wrapped packages and weird smelly uncles dressing up like Santa, but an active participant in ACT II – opening the gift, receiving it and letting it transform us we can show up in our little corners of the world differently. Daring to be our authentic selves, fully present, living LOVE as a verb is contagious.

And it’s incredibly in short supply for many. We are uniquely positioned on a shared campus with our Jewish and Muslim siblings, neighbors, and friends who are currently experiencing a horror beyond imagination. The suffering, the grief, the pain is too much for words. In these times, our sacred texts (from Romans) remind us that “we do not even know what to pray for so the Spirit herself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.”

Taking a risk would be for us to hear the call of Christmas, the great Carol of the Bells, “Emanuel” God with us, as the call to prayer alongside our religious brothers and sisters in faith. This week, I have been learning more about Tri-Faith from our partners and have shared great conversations with Rabbi Sharif from Temple Israel and Abdul Mackie from AMI, as well as our own ti-faith members. “Suffering” and a deep longing for peace are heavy on every heart. The kind of extravagant peace so audacious that the prophet Isaiah described it as a lion lying down with a wolf and turning our guns into plowshares. That is the cry of Christmas this year that HOPE, JOY, PEACE, and LOVE would find their way into the rubble and ash.

Christmas was canceled in Bethlehem City this week, in the birthplace of Jesus, home of the Jewish people, and central to each of our Abrahamic faiths. No public worship services are being held today, no witness to the wonder of Christ, no choirs singing, no “children all dressed up like Eskimos,” no Christmas…

Church, risky tonight would be for us to reposition ourselves in the center of this Christmas story as those called not only to receive and open God’s great gift of love but to embody it and immediately put it to use.

In these difficult weeks, as our beloved friends, Temple Israel and American Muslim Institute face tremendous grief, isolation, and fear, let alone the challenges of navigating complexity and differences of opinion/convictions within their congregations. We can show up, we can listen, we can pray, we can be present with one another, understanding that the Spirit of the living God who entered the human story through Jesus Christ, the prophets, Isaiah, Muhammad, and those who would come after in the name of love, that same Spirit of God calls us to embody our love on this day, and let it grow stronger within us as day by day we build relationships that can withstand diversity, and celebrations that overcome differences.

This. This is the real power of Christmas, of love born anew, a love that flips the status quo on its head. This love defeats empire and destroys enmity; a love so powerful that calls us to reposition ourselves, not as bystanders to the greatest story ever told, but as central stage dancers and actors and singers, birthing each day a love greater, a light brighter and a truth more powerful that this world has ever known.

Merry Christmas, my friends, my Christmas.

Emmanuel, God is with us.