Christmas Eve 2020
Of all the Christmas eves in my life, I believe this one, 2020, will live long in my memory.
Like you, I have wonderful memories of many Christmas Eves in my life…
I loved Christmas eve in 1976, when my family lived in Jacksonville, Alabama; we walked out of church that night after midnight mass to find the snow lay on the ground— huge, gentle snowflakes, the kind you can catch on your tongue, were falling ever so quietly.
Christmas eve when I was 10 years old is also particularly memorable—my family spent that Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Illinois with all our cousins. I asked Santa that year to bring me a pair of jumping shoes. Like the roller skates of bygone days, that buckled onto your shoes, not the new ones that are boots themselves, these Sears and Roebuck jumping shoes were actually platform springs that clip onto your shoes; they were going to make me feel as if I were jumping on a trampoline wherever I went.
I remember that year well, because Santa ran out of them before he got to Nana’s house.
I loved Rob’s and my first Christmas together in 1985—we’d been married all of one month; we had to cut the top off our little tree as it didn’t quite fit into our little two bedroom house. Our second Christmas together is even more memorable, Because I was very pregnant. Rob still wonders why I chose a red taffeta dress with a white collar, which made me look like a big fat Santa Claus.
Now, there’s Christmas 2020—I don’t know what we’ll say when we look back to reflect upon this crazy, mixed up year, and this Christmas eve, but I know we won’t soon forget spending it at home, away from church, the absence of carol singing, unable to share our usual holiday cheer.
Christmas 2020 is not going to be the perfect holiday like the ones we see on greeting cards and made-for-television movies. No, this year is different. Many families have lost loved ones, which leaves us all feeling an element of grief. Someone is missing at the table, which happens every Christmas, but this year so many more places are left unset at the table because of Covid.
Others we often gather with, are not here either, even if they are well, as we work to be careful not to further spread the virus.
On a perfect Christmas eve, the homily wouldn’t mention such things, or talk about grief or loved ones now gone. A perfect Christmas eve would have our churches full, ringing out with joyful song, passing a joyous peace, lighting one another’s candles as we join in singing Silent Night.
2020 seems far from a perfect Christmas.
But, and I’ll try to be as articulate as I can, in saying this, But, here’s the thing, ….
Christ did not wait to come into the world until it was perfect. Christ did not come into a world all made up and ready for him. That is not Luke’s or Matthew’s Christmas story. Despite all our efforts to make the nativity perfect, to clean it up, the truth is we cannot.
Jesus is born into this imperfect world. Jesus is born the child of a young unmarried girl, the adopted son of an adoptive father. Jesus’ birth happens in a small town ill-equipped to hold so many people. Jesus’ first bed is a manger, a trough where animals are watered and fed.
The Christian birth story is remarkable and beautiful, but not in ways we often use those terms. Christmas eve is unforgettable because it tells the extraordinary story of God’s intimate choice to be part of the human family.
God decides to be with us, to know life as we humans know it….to feel the cold of winter and the heat of summer. To have dirt on his skin and know the bliss of water washing the crust off his elbows. In Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be hungry and thirsty. He knows the pain of lost friendships and the joy of reunions.
In Jesus birth, God chooses vulnerability. God chooses to be known.
This Advent, I joined with a wonderful group of friends to read some stories, poems and reflections by the author of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. Her poem entitled “First Coming,” though written years ago, first spoke to me this Christmas 2020, and as I read it I think you’ll see why:
Christ did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Friends, the wonder of this night is not in perfecting it, to make it ours. The wonder of this night is Incarnation. I cannot think of any other way God could redeem us, but by coming into our fallen and broken world, by coming to be with us. God does not wait until all is perfect.
Into our messy lives, Jesus is born— God’s incomparable love is embodied, showing us once and for all that God and humanity are meant for each other—this is perfect love.
Making this year a perfect Christmas after all.
Thanks be to God.