Love Came Down at Christmas
Love came down at Christmas. Love all lovely, love Divine. Love was born at Christmas Star and angels gave the sign. - Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)
There are many beloved carols this time of year, the tune of this one – Love Came Down at Christmas - isn’t as widely known on this side of the pond – but oh, those words. With such elegant simplicity the English poet Christina Rosetti shares the good news of God’s gift this holy night.
In my attempt to perk (all of) us up at this hour, after apps and cocktails and dinners and desserts and bubbly beverages - I’ll ask this question -
How do you know this story we just heard is true? It isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen – except with movie magic. Do you really believe stars and angels filled the heavens to give the sign?
Circumstantially there really isn’t much, anything really, to confirm these events. There are no outside accounts – except maybe Linus and Charlie Brown. The other three gospel writers – Mark, Matthew and John – they don’t tell this story. Two of them don’t even tell us how Jesus was born. So, why would I think – why would I orient my life – and invite you to do the same – around this belief that God forever altered the human story by being born into ours?
Well, as any good rabbi or philosopher would say, sometimes its best to answer a question – with a question. How do you know its true when someone tells you, I love you? Why believe those words, when so many human stories are signs that love is the farthest thing from our hearts? How do you tell a person what it means when you say those words – to a spouse, or child, parent, or friend?
Love came down at Christmas –– is a truth so scary and wonderful all at once – that it really can only be told through story. Just like we know the words – I love you – to be true only through the stories of shared experiences. The experiences we have when the details of what love does – how it risks and appears and gives – is personally made real to us.
Those details – comprise the stories that all four gospel writers do indeed share. Stories where the child that is born for us spends the entirety of his life meeting people where they are to risk, and share and make real – the challenging good news of God’s love for all people.
A love that risks everything in a story we can talk more about – when I hope to see most of you again, come Easter. The love that came down for us – and gives all for us – just so we can live trusting in the grace and mercy and forgiveness that sets us free.
Tonight’s story, really, isn’t about Jesus the Christ child – tonight’s story is about God.
And one thing, there are many things, but one thing the story tells me – is that God is sneaky. Oh sure, there’s a host of heavenly angels announcing Jesus’ birth from the heavens – but their proclamation is way under the radar - certainly the radar of anyone who matters.
The angels don’t appear to the rulers and the kings. God doesn’t seem to pay much attention to Emperor Augustus or Quirinius the Governor – despite the power they clearly weld in their day - insisting on registering the whole wide world.
Instead, the angels appear within a world that would never be known them. The world of the, unknown, undocumented migrants – aka, the shepherds – who are simply going about their lives, doing what they need to do to care for their families, day by day and night by night.
God is sneaky like that. Breaking into the places where the world least expects. Where the people are so ordinary we often overlook them – like the ordinary moments in our lives. The mustard seed moments – the sitting at table and breaking bread moments. It is in the little things, the stories consistently tell us - the little people and places that God so often reveals God’s self.
Why do parents nibble on cookies and sneak more gifts under a tree – late into the night after the children have gone to sleep? Because we long to make one ordinary morning a year – extraordinary. We long to see the reflection of our love – on the faces of our children – in their joy and wonder and delight.
And that’s what God longs to see on our faces too – through the ordinary gifts we are given – day by day and night by night – beloved children of God that we all are.
Ok – I know you all really wanted the 2,500 word, 20 minute sermon tonight – but like Mary with this baby – I’m going to wrap it up!
God is Love. That is what is revealed tonight. That is the scary and wonderful good news revealed in all the sacred stories of scripture – in our tradition and many others. For God’s love is just too big for us to keep it all to ourselves.
And you and I know it is true because you and I – have our own stories. We know the fear and the joy those three little words bring. We know the fear and joy of holding on and letting go – the sacrifice that real love requires, many times throughout our lives.
And so, my deepest prayer on this holy night is that you and I – and all the world – hear and heed the message of the angels this Christmas...
Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to let this God of Love sneak into your life – open your heart and change the way you see the world.
Love came down at Christmas. Love incarnate. Love divine. Love was born at Christmas Star and angels gave the sign.