Today we begin a journey that we’ll walk together through Christmas and to the Epiphany. Ronald Knox, in a sermon on Advent, said that all of us that have lived know what it is to embark on a path that plods on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining our eyes towards the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is to judge distances while doing that. In pitch darkness, it might be a couple hundred miles to your destination or it might be a few hundred yards. And so it is as we look with expectant eyes in the darkness towards the light that shone on a cold night over 2000 years ago. We look to an event in the past to remind us to look towards the future all the while looking in the NOW. And so we once again take the shepherds for our guides, and imagine ourselves traveling with them, at dead of night, straining our eyes towards the light which streams out not from the things of this earth, but from the cave at Bethlehem.
In the second volume of Sunday Sermon Masterpiece Collection James F. Colaianni wrote: The Christmas story reminds us once again it was not man’s idea that the Son of God should be born in a stable. And so the first thing we learn from Jesus’ birth is that the Lord will not always be found where we expect to find Him. We tend to look for Him in the nice, the clean, the warm. We expect Him to be in churches and in the Bible and in hymns of praise and in Christmas cards which have Scripture verses on them…And if these are the only places we search for the Lord, then we’re not looking in the stable. This reality is expressed with dramatic force in these lines from Michael Quoist’s book called Prayers:
I am not made of plaster, nor of stone, nor of bronze. I am living flesh throbbing, suffering. I am among men [and women] and they have not recognized Me. I am poorly paid, I am unemployed, I live in a slum. I am sick, I sleep under bridges, I am in prison. I am oppressed, I am patronized. I sweat men’s blood on all battlefields. I cry out in the night and die in the solitude of battle. And yet I said to them: ‘Whatever you do to My brothers [or sisters], however humble, you do to Me.’ That’s clear! The terrible thing is that they know it, but don’t take it seriously.
The anonymously written lines below are a reminder that to maintain our focus on this path through darkness and through the hustlebustlecraziness that this time of year has become, before we can turn our eyes towards the light of the Incarnation, we need to take them off of ourselves. To begin this journey we need to remove our eyes from the warm fuzzies we get from the comfort of decorating our homes and baking our cookies, and remember that the reality of Christmas began in a dank, smelly stable because this poor couple found nothing but closed doors in their faces.
It’s sharing your gifts, not purchasing gifts;
It’s not wrapping presents, its being present
and wrapping your arms around the ones you love;
It’s not getting Christmas cards out on time,
It’s sending any card, anytime, at the right time;
It’s not having the biggest and best Christmas light display,
It’s displaying the Christ light that comes from your heart;
It’s not Santa coming down the chimney,
It’s Jesus coming down from heaven,
and giving us the gift of eternal life.