2013 Christmas Eve Homily

This was my Christmas Eve homily for the second service.  I didn’t preach it for the first service, which was the Children’s Christmas pageant, although I served as vocal soloist for that one.

Christmas Eve
December 24, 2013
Pittsfield, MA

            Other than the first few years of my life, we had a real tree every Christmas.

            Getting the tree was fun. My dad would take my brother, sister, and me into town where the Lynbrook Lion’s Club sold trees to raise money.  We’d spend time looking at them and always wanted the tallest tree we could possibly get into the family room.  Somehow, we consistently chose trees that just scraped the ceiling.  My dad would lop off the excess.

            One year, I think it was 1964, we didn’t get a tree.  That was the first year of the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows.  My father’s college roommate, Stanley, got us the tree.  Uncle Stanley normally lived in Hawaii, but as he was the lead engineer for that state’s pavilion, he lived in the New York metro area for several months.

            Having Uncle Stanley in New York was fun.  First, he was Hawaiian, which was pretty exotic already.  He told us about his house in Honolulu and the mango tree he grew in his yard that produced too many mangoes.  Although he was stationed in New York, he regularly went home to spend time with his wife and sons.  Sometimes they came to New York.  Whenever he flew from Hawaii, we met him at the airport.  He always came back with a case of pineapples. I remember him telling us that one end of the pineapple is sweeter than the other.

            That year when we wanted to get a tree, my dad told us that Uncle Stanley was getting it for us.  We were pretty excited.

            I can’t remember if my siblings and I were home when the tree arrived.  But when we saw it, we were disappointed.  It was a live tree, one of those trees with the root ball wrapped in burlap.  The tree from the bottom of the root ball to the top couldn’t have been more than three feet.  My parents gave the tree some extra height by putting it on top of a small table, about the height of a coffee table.

            It was a beautiful tree.  It was well shaped and had good proportions.  It was full and dense with needles.  We didn’t hang ornaments on it as much as placed them on it.  I don’t think we put lights on it.

            Tree decorating took no time.  As for gifts under the tree?  Despite great proportions, the bottom branches were short.  We probably could have stacked all the presents around the tree to hide it.

            Still, we had a good Christmas.

            Days afterwards, my dad took the tree outside and planted it in a hole he dug.  By spring it had taken, and the tree was healthy.  Over the years it grew.  When my parents moved out of that house some thirty years later, the tree was taller than their two-story house.

            Christmas is that tree.  Though the angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth, who would have guessed that that baby boy would grow to become a teacher and a healer?  Who knew the potential in that baby lying in a manger?  Jesus would grow in stature.  Though he commanded a ragtag army, they didn’t carry weapons of war, and yet, his leadership challenged the Roman order.  Even with their mighty weaponry, they feared him so much that they executed him.  Among those who gathered in the stable that night, could anyone have known what he would become?

            Let’s not mark this night as the birth of Jesus.  Christmas is far larger than that.  Christmas is astonishing in that God came down to earth in order to share our common lot and to learn and live our suffering and pain.  God exchanged divinity for humanity.  God exchanged eternity for temporality.  God exchanged life for death.

            When we think of Christmas as the birth of Jesus, we see a little tree on a coffee table.  It’s pretty and it’s cute.  But we don’t see what Christmas can become if we let it grow in us to its full stature.

            Christmas is love and the affirmation of its transforming power.  It’s not about the right gift or the perfect Christmas dinner.  It’s not about the miracle stories of the dreams fulfilled we watch on the Hallmark channel all through December.  It’s about God’s presence in Jesus and how the world was transformed by his birth.  We celebrate Christmas because it is an annual reminder that the world does not have to be as it is.  Christmas stands for a time, not a day, when God’s reign of peace and justice rooted in love will prevail.  Christmas is a world where wealth is measured not by what we have, but what we can give away.  Christmas is a world where true transformation does not happen through weapons of destruction, but by sharing the bread and the cup.  Christmas reminds us that God’s creation, the gift given to us because we are loved, is one of abundance and that no one should know scarcity or deprivation.  Christmas comes when we remember and live with the faith that our personal welfare depends upon the well-being of all people.  And by our baptisms, we are called to live our lives in ways that will make Christmas not a day, but a way of life for all people.

            Richard Wilbur captured the essence of this night in this poem:

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave His kingdom come.

Yet He shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

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About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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