Sermon; Christmas Day
When Christmas falls on a Saturday, like this year, I refer to this weekend as the Holy Triduum of the Incarnation. The Triduum, if you remember, is/are the three great days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day. Christmas on Saturday gives us Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the First Sunday after Christmas back-to-back-to-back. It's three days crammed with Christmas celebrations. And while today is a major feast – obviously – to me it has the feel of Holy Saturday.
If you've never been to a Holy Saturday service, it's different. In comparison to the other days of Holy Week, it isn't well-attended. It is more subdued than those other days as well. Maundy Thursday has the footwashing, betrayal, and stripping of the altar. Good Friday has the Passion. Easter has the Resurrection. Holy Saturday is basically a quiet graveside service.
In some respects this is similar to this weekend. Yesterday we had the pageant. Last night was our midnight mass with incense. Both services had the traditional candlelight “Holy Night” hymn. Tomorrow is Lessons and Carols. But today? Today seems to be just a regular day with the celebration of Holy Communion. But today is more than a regular day.
To me, today feels like the post-event calm. I think back to the birth of my daughter and there was all the usual activity with the nurses, the doctor, phone calls, and the actual birth. The room was full of busy-ness, activity, and noise. And then we were left alone and it was blessedly quiet. More phone calls, notices, and celebrations would come, but that would take place another day. At that moment, though, in the quiet, we could ponder how we got here and what this might mean for us.
Today is that quiet time. Yesterday this room was filled with busy-ness, activity, and noise. More celebrations and activity will come, but those will take place on another day. At this moment, though, in the quiet, we can ponder how we got here and what this birth might mean for us.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness'.” In that first story of creation, humans are the last thing God creates. As God looked back at the close of the day upon everything which was created, he saw that it was very good. This child born to Mary was part of creation. He had ten fingers and ten toes, and I can imagine Mary and Joseph looking at him after the ordeal of birth and thinking, “He is very good.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” This opening from John's gospel is a recognition that Jesus is the Word of God, the second person of the Godhead, eternal from the beginning. This was the Word that spoke, “Let there be light.” It was the Word spoken that brought forth all creation. It was the Word spoken that said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” It is the Word that continues to speak to us today.
We have these two stories of creation and incarnation. In the first, God created all things out of love to rejoice in the splendor of his radiance. In the second, God, in the person of the Son, joined with us in that creation. This birth reminds us that the creative God of the universe humbled himself to be born of a human mother. This birth reminds us that the immortal God dwells in the mortal body of Jesus. What this birth means for us, I think, is that God, through his divine mercy, became the person of Jesus in order to draw nearer to us; while we, through the person of Jesus, have the perfect example of what it means to live in union with God.
Holy Saturday and Christmas Day have a few things in common. They are both, liturgically speaking, quiet days. Holy Saturday falls between the chaos of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter. Today Christmas falls between the noise and chaos of the two services yesterday and the joyful music of tomorrow. On Holy Saturday we ponder what the death of Jesus might mean for those who followed him then and for those who follow him now. Today we ponder what the birth of Jesus – fully human and fully divine – might mean for those who follow him now and for those who will follow him in the future.
On this day of families gathering, on this day of gift giving, on this day of long-time traditions and the making of new traditions, spend the time necessary to do all of that. Spend time with your families. Open gifts. Make phone calls. Enjoy the busy-ness of the day. But at some point today, take some time in holy silence. Take some time away from the busy-ness of the day and reflect on the fact that the servant ministry of Jesus didn't begin at his baptism – it began long ago when the eternal, immortal God of the universe, creator of all things seen and unseen, chose to humble himself in such a way as to be born a mortal human being.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word said, “Let there be light.” And there was.
And the Word was the light of all people and lived among us.
May we live as he did, shining the light of the love of God onto a world that desperately needs it.