Advent Reflection Day 25
Christmas Eve 2014 ~ Last day of Advent
Essentially, Advent is the time of longing for all that Christmas signifies. As we echo the words of the liturgy, Come, O Come Emmanuel, We long to be in the picture and be there to adore Him. Imagine yourself in the scene. It is Christmas Eve. It is now or never, for tonight God comes to us once again in our memories of Christmases past with all its rich meaning and, ultimately, the sense of belonging. O Emmanuel. You are God with us. Incarnate Word of God coming to us as a tiny baby. As women our maternal hearts open to receive you, to cherish the love your Presence brings. We are at HOME within your heart.
“Christmas Eve will find you, where the love light gleams ... I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”.
These words from a contemporary Christmas song touch the heart. It invites us to turn our thoughts to days long gone and memories of home while experiencing the joy of what home means to us now. In the song themes God considered important are named: LOVE because God is Love; LIGHT for surely God sent Jesus to be our light and our guide, the Christmas star is a reminder; HOME our ultimate home being in God; DREAMS of all we might be in order to live in a world of peace and love … dreams where we are attuned to God speaking to us as Joseph was when warned to take the infant Jesus to a place of safety.
On this last day of Advent where is God’s Love found and his light guiding us? Where is God’s home today? What are we dreaming of for our Congregation, our family? We recall in our collective memory the story told and retold. Emmanuel, God with us. Even more, God is one of us and in THAT we have the miracle we celebrate this HOLY NIGHT when once again God takes on human form as together we remember. God could have arrived here in majesty as a fully grown adult, the powerful ruler of a great nation and oh yes, wealthy, too - things the world makes a big fuss about. Instead he chose the most dependent and vulnerable of forms, that of a human baby to a poor working family.
Tonight, Oh Holy Night, we relive it all as we meditate again on each moment and experience. We hear with joy the message of Angels, Glory to God in the highest, echoed by adoring overawed shepherds who report God’s blessing to the amazed parents and to all of us. With the arrival of the Wise Men we ourselves join them in presenting among their rich treasures the most humble treasures of our hearts. And in the nostalgia of the moment we allow ourselves to be what God asks us to be … people with hearts of children.
As we settle ourselves into our places of meditation, in the chapel, the garden, by the nativity scene, on the porch … we enter into that deep place within us where we are one with God. Here we discover God has chosen to be at home within each of us. Here we discover where we in turn are most at home. As Sisters and brothers, whose primary devotion is to the loving hearts of Jesus and his Mother, we find ourselves immeasurably comforted, yet challenged by both God and his earthly mother who show us how to be loving and faithful through life. They didn’t have it easy; nor do we. But Jesus, Mary and Joseph had each other and so do we. Home, the old saying goes, is where the heart is. Let us go deeply into contemplation of the God who makes His home within us and where we are most at home.
So what is God saying to you about where your true home is? What is God saying to you in this moment on THIS Christmas Eve about your love of Him, your faithful following of him; your humble service and growing love for others, your hope when you feel most challenged by frailty, weakness, chronic illness? Your belief is in Emmanuel, God truly with us.
How shocking that our great, majestic creator of all that has ever been, all that will ever be, would be born as a tiny, vulnerable baby in the poorest of circumstances and in the manner of all women. His first bed was a manger filled with hay for feeding the animals. In a stable with the smell of hay and animals all around, there our beloved God revealed his face, his heart, his body. We think of what it means to have a home in this time when there are more refugees across the world than ever before.
The Evening News shows us people fleeing their homes from Syria to Ukraine, from Afghanistan to Southern Sudan, from Mexico to … well, you have seen the news. Refugees in the millions. Home. What and where is home to a refugee? Jesus himself within a day or two of his birth was a refugee, fleeing for safety from Bethlehem to Egypt. Then there is the undocumented who live in fear of being found, deported, and separated from family. Finally there is the run of the mill homeless. They walk the streets of our cities in whatever country you are living. You don’t have to go far to see a homeless person. Many are drug using, mentally ill, but so many are just out of work, down on their luck. And in my area I was shocked to learn recently there are around 20,000 homeless children. Who will be Jesus for them this Christmas Eve, they who are the face and Heart of Jesus for us. They are a constant and uncomfortable reminder to us that God chose to enter our world as an infant in weakness and poverty laced with danger.
LIGHT: God sent a star to announce the birth of his son. LIGHT shone in the darkness. Imagine how tired Mary and Joseph are from the strain of finding no shelter and from the journey. They would have noticed the bright star shining over Bethlehem and been grateful for the light as they searched for an inn. Bethlehem is about 100 miles south of Nazareth. Imagine how tired Mary was at nine months of pregnancy, riding a donkey over rough, unpaved roads, spending nights along the way in village inns for the journey would have taken them a week. The night they most need shelter only a stable is available.
And it is in a stable among animals and strangers, far from home, that Mary gives birth to the Son of God, the Prince of Peace.
As Mary gave birth to Jesus in the stable we romantically reduce the difficulties. The reality is: giving birth is messy. God does not avoid the messiness of our lives. Mary, sinless though she was, would not have been spared the pain of labour any more than her sinless Son would later be spared the agony of crucifixion. I like to imagine I am one of the women assisting Mary tonight as she labours to give birth to the Son. I imagine Jesus being born, swaddling him in warm wraps and placing him in the arms of his mother. I wrap Mary in a warm blanket, make her a hot drink and call Joseph in to take the Son of God into his arms. It is a fanciful, dreamlike meditation, but is it so far from reality? As we enter into the mystery of this holiest of nights, so many thoughts come to mind. God came to us in the context of family, entering it as its youngest and most insignificant member. How will I approach him in his humble dwelling? How do I approach you in whom he continues to make his home?
I would like to emulate the attitude of a man I once met. It was late evening and already dark. I had just brought a young woman back to the ward after she had given birth to a healthy baby boy. It was also Christmas. We had the home made decorations up in the ward. The nativity scene was at the end of the ward at the foot of the bed of this young woman. I was standing beside the crib with two of the nurses when an elderly man opened the door and stood there. Invited to come in he took off his hat and held it to his chest. Then patients and nurses alike became still in quiet amazement and awe as he eased himself down onto the floor and began to make his way down the length of the ward to the bedside of his daughter. No word was spoken. We remained still in a shared moment of deep respect and joy. This was a grandfather approaching his first grandson now held in the arms of his daughter. When the grandfather reached the bedside he made a profound obeisance to the mother and baby and then lifted his head to gaze with such tender love at his new grandson it quite took my breath away. In my imagination I was in Bethlehem at the side of Mary as she held her new born infant son and it was God the Father who was on his knees approaching in reverence and gratitude for the birth of his Son. All was joy and love and peace and wonder in that moment.
It was only a moment in time yet a memory as fresh as today. Christmas is a time of gift giving and receiving. It is a time when we are saying thanks to all we love for the gifts we receive, including the gift of who they are. Let us thank God at this special time for the gift of each other and for the gift of memory for it is a place we can go to so easily and it is so painful for some of our elders when memory is taken away from them through disease.
So many of the songs of Christmas are of longing for days gone by, for home.
The nostalgia of childhood and memories of the warm glow of a fire, carols sung, presents bought, wrapped, and placed under the tree with the understanding: not to be opened until Christmas. Even the commercial side of Christmas is good as it is a time of focus on love, beauty, light, peace, harmony and hope. All of these inspire joy. Let’s face it: who of us doesn’t like the thoughtful gift, the loving message in a card, the sharing of memories and the singing of carols? It is the time of gift giving and receiving. God invites us to enjoy receiving for surely that is what Christmas is truly all about. It is that we are receivers of the greatest of gifts. God’s only Son, given to us. God has come! Yet, we await his coming for he came not just one time in history but comes continually into our hearts. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Word continues to dwell among us and I am reminded once again … God has made his home in us.
Advent, the time of waiting, has come to an end yet we are still waiting even as we recognise God is with us. God our LIGHT! God DREAMS for us a world of LOVE. God has made his HOME in us and in God is our truest home. Yes, I’ll be home for Christmas for Christmas Eve has found me where the love light gleams with a deep sense of belonging held in the embrace of love. We hold the infant Jesus in our hearts and our restless hearts know serenity. Together let us dream of a world healed and at peace.