Morning After Reflections…. NOT for kids!
It is the morning after Christmas Day and I feel like a new person! After our beautiful and peace-filled Christmas morning Eucharist, I rather completely crashed. I sat in a chair with the book Black Swan and spent the balance of the day dozing and reading swatches of Eileen Harrison’s life. Eileen is a Kurnai woman and an artist. The Kurnai are one of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples.
In between dozes yesterday, it struck me quite clearly that we can read about, can be drawn to, & can be fascinated by the life of the native peoples. But the truth of their stories will always be their own. It will always remain elusive to us as onlookers.
Much like the birth of Jesus. The full meaning of what we celebrate at Christmas will always elude us at least a bit. We can read the story. We can preach about the story. We can even re-tell and re-enact the story. But the story and the fullness of its meaning? Now THAT is so much greater than the stories we tell or the pageants we perform. No matter how beautiful our nativity displays, no matter how wondrous the music of our carols and services, no matter how joyous our pageants… these will never fully convey the meaning and the challenge of the truth that – for a few years in human history – God gave up all God’s godly powers and God’s capacity to “know-it-all” in order to share every experience of our human life except sin.
What?? Yes, God chose to be born human. God chose to experience human birth. God chose to experience growing up, testing boundaries, and deciding which path to follow. God chose to experience the same pain we feel when a loved one dies. God chose to be tempted to be self-centered, to feel overwhelming fear that occasionally takes hold of each of us. God chose to experience frustration with self and with others. Hunger, pain, love, struggling with the ordinariness of days, longing… In Jesus, God committed to experiencing all of it! Once God chose to give up “equality with the God-self” there was no turning back. God the Son had given up the capacity to change course. Jesus was fully human from his birth to his death!
Paul’s letter to the community at Philippi put it this way.. “Though Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of humans.” (Phil. 2:6-7) And after taking up our humanity, Jesus humbled himself by conforming to the whole human experience, even accepting death on a cross.
I have often wished that Philippians 2:6-8 had been chosen as a Christmas Day reading. That reading pretty clearly tells us that the Christian celebration of Christmas is not really “all about the children”. No! Christian Christian is not at all about the children! Christmas is a very adult feast. Children can’t grasp what it means for God to choose to experience the struggles and frustrations, the pain and the longing of the human heart. Children simply haven’t lived enough of life to grasp what it means for God the Son to experience the fullness of humanity. That’s for you and for me to get! We – as a church – need to re-claim Christmas as a very adult feast. We need to preach to adults. We need to invite adult reflections. We – need to let the kids hear the story… but we need to be careful that we don’t convey that “Christmas is for kids” message.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we should do away with nativity displays and pageants and children’s birthday parties for Jesus. And I am NOT saying that we should give up the things we have come to know and love as preparation for celebrating Christmas. In fact, I LOVE it all. This year, I loved every bit of our Advent preparations, our completely amazing display of world nativities, the persistent weekly call of the shofar, our reflective Compline by Candlelight, and the human longing for God’s peace that was evident in our Longest Night Service. And I truly loved and was moved by our festive Christmas Eve Eucharist with the children’s procession to the creche, their lighting of the completed Advent wreath… and by the magnificent prelude with Danny’s soulful rendition of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”, Teresa’s powerful proclamation of the magnitude of the birth of a child with “O Holy NIght”, and our first presentation of “Silent Night” against the background of the beautiful “Peace, Peace, Peace.” I loved it all!
But we can’t allow ourselves to get lost in these beautiful things and stay there. We can’t settle for a celebration is that is beautiful but doesn’t challenge us to know God differently. We can’t forget that we as adults must continue to deepen our understanding of the significance of this holiday. We can’t give in to a focus on the children at the expense of an ever-deeper appreciation of the meaning of the event we celebrate. It isn’t just Jesus’ birth that we celebrate. It is the reality that God the Son gave up being God and became one of us. God chose to be one of us. Crazy as that sounds, it is true! That’s like me – a woman – giving up being human to become an ant on the ground, or an an annoying fly, or a squishy worm. It’s like that, only bigger!
Now, before you start saying “of course!”… challenge yourself. Think about whether your celebration of Christmas this year invited you to a new understanding of God… or to a new awareness of God-in-our-midst. Think about whether your Christmas celebration this year did more than remind you (once again) that God calls us to love each other. Did something deepen in your understanding of or relationship with God … or was your celebration of Christmas stuck a rather magical and beautiful but childhood appreciation for a long-ago birth? There’s still time… the Christmas Day celebration is behind us, but out capacity to reflect on it has not ended. True, the full reality of the human birth of the Son of God will always somewhat elude us, just as I will never fully appreciate the full reality of the life of the Kurnai people. But that doesn’t get me off the hook for trying.