Christmas Eve Meditation 2016
“The very purpose of Christmas is to visit where ones roots lie”. This beautiful sentiment was spoken by Sr. Monica Joan to a younger nun who lamented that she could not get home for Christmas one year. Sr. Monica Joan is a nun on the endearing BBC show ‘Call the Midwife’; she is elderly and ill with the onset of dementia. She is from a wealthy home but chose to follow God’s call and be a nun in the East End of poverty stricken London in the 1950’s. She served at Nonnatus House.
After many years at Nonnatus House one particular year Sr. Monica Joan strives her hardest to go home and so she leaves the convent one night very close to Christmas. When finding out that she had gone missing the other sisters where afraid that she was wandering aimlessly and lost given her limited mental capacities now. But in Sr. Monica Joan’s mind she wasn’t lost, she was simply finding her way to where she needed to be. Home. After traveling some time she acknowledged, ‘It was effort enough to make my way here. Now that I am home I am quite content.’
People at home knew her as Antonia, her birth name before she took on a name that symbolized her new life. In her reflection she said ‘it seems strange to hear my name again “Antonia” – I have come home to be centered’. Indeed she was home and centered on who she was and her roots.
And after being cared for and warmed in her ancestral home she told her family gathered round, “Everyone should go home for Christmas, that was why Jesus was born in Bethlehem.” Sr. Monica Joan knew the meaning of Christmas and in her frailty she emulated it. Of all the births that she attended as a midwife, and seeing the joys of birth at home, revisiting her homestead, the place of her birth was very important to her because home was so intertwined with the birth of Christ. She had come home.
In fact that is exactly why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was Mary and Joseph’s ancestral home, it was where their roots were. You see that year there was an imperial edict issued from the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus that there would be a census taken and that people needed to go home to their familial residence so that they could be counted and then appropriately taxed and conscripted.
For Mary and Joseph home was the quaint Judean village of Bethlehem, it was where their ancestors were born, made a living and then grew old. It was the origin of the family of King David who of course, is from whom Jesus is descended. So, they journeyed back to their roots. As Sr. Monica Joan said, “The very purpose of Christmas is to visit where ones roots lie”. Traveling is very much a part of this Christmas story, then and now.
And that is why you, my friends, are here tonight. You have made the journey to that which is familiar to you, your roots. You’ve travelled from far away places and just down the street. Even I travelled, by foot, a mere 187 steps from the parsonage to the church to get here, to pay homage to this story of love and to hear and experience how my salvation begins once again.
We’ve come to hear a familiar story of Christ’s birth, the birth of saving grace in the world. We’ve come to the place where our shared story takes root, a place where we can be our God given selves without pretenses, without fanfare, without anything that you have to make up, or put on, or take off because that’s what this home is about. Its about coming as you are tonight to revisit your foundation here, this Christmas Eve, in Jesus Christ.
The conditions of your birth, your domicile of origin are important and are essential this night because they are rooted in the story and Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your circumstances may not be Hallmark card picture perfect but they are inexplicably twined together for in this story of a sweet little baby is life and life resurrected where the imperfect becomes tolerable and maybe, with great imagination even perfect. Christmas is a story of love and transformation that is over two thousand years old, a story that reads as a lullaby does for a small child in a warm home, it is anything but.
Homes are not always perfect. I dare to say a stable with smelly cattle and stinky sheep that had to be moved out of the way was not the best choice for a birth – especially for the Son of God for heaven’s sake. A makeshift bed out of a food trough half stuffed with eaten hay on a cool night with air slipping through the wooden slats of the stable is not where I would want to lay my newborn. No sir or madam! But I suppose I wouldn’t have a choice because we have no control over where and how we are born. Jesus surely didn’t.
Let me tell you that many are born in less than ideal circumstances still to this day. The World Health Organization reported just this week Monday that a baby was born, a beautiful 8 pound baby girl named Tasmin. Dear Tasmin is the first baby born after her mother was evacuated from war torn Aleppo, already an immigrant so young to be born in such deplorable conditions. To see this beautiful girl with her raven black hair we know that, while the conditions of her birth are heart wrenching and dangerous, she is alive and her beginnings do not have to define who she will become in this world, she’s in God’s beloved hands. Christian or not there is hope and there is light in her tiny face and muted cry.
It’s in these unimaginable places, these homes, homes that are less than impeccable situations where God meets us and claims us. The late Rev. Peter Gomes, theologian, former professor and minister at Harvard University once preached, “Christmas is God’s initiative, it is God’s work when God begins to establish a relationship of love with us; and of this love Jesus is the sign, the substance, and the symbol. The gift of God for the people of God.”[i]
The gift of God for the people of God[ii] in Aleppo, in Berlin, in Ankara, in Washington, in New Haven, in Orange, this night God comes into the reality of a fanatical world, into crazy homes and offers a gift of stability and resilience in the midst of all of this.
May the spirit of Christmas and this baby's birth be the light of stability in your life tonight and forever. Amen