I preached Christmas Eve with a speck of white plaster from our nearly renovated sacristy on the left shoulder of my lovely black dress. The whole time. Which feels perfect for a working, studying, chaplain-interning mother and spouse. The church building is under construction, as so am I.

As the Liturgy of the Word for this family Mass, forty costumed children and youth retold the story of Jesus’ birth. They enacted a script that mashes together the prophets and the nativity narratives in both Matthew and Luke (which may make the biblical scholars among us cringe!). My short homily immediately followed this Christmas Pageant.

I drafted this piece for an Anglican Homiletics course earlier this fall (along with a 2200-word exegesis of the text, congregation and socio-economic context, but I’ll spare you that!). Some might hear nods to prophetic poetry in my writing, and the visual of a thirty-something laywoman standing in the pulpit at all, let alone on Christmas Eve, probably seems prophetic for many of our traditions.

But I crafted this as a pastoral sermon for a liturgical feast day. Even in September I anticipated the intensity of this time for me, for my family, and for many of us. I love Advent and resonate deeply with the spirituality, but every year Christmas comes, and I’m still waiting. Standing in the pulpit, albeit briefly, reminds me of why we’re undertaking an intense time, even as I wonder how our way of proceeding might look differently.  

Read below for the text. Or you can watch the archive of this five-minute homily by clicking here. Begin at minute 30:25 for my piece.

Homily for the Christmas Pageant & Mass 2019

Appointed Gospel: Luke 2:1-20

As I watched our children tonight, I thought, “It’s all here, our whole story, all that we need.”

The prophets. Mary and Joseph. The angel Gabriel. The long walk to Bethlehem. The always wild toddler star. {…every. year. lol…}

The Birth. I love that line, “The baby is born, the one we have been waiting for.”[1]

In our final scene the whole cast returns to gather around the Christ Child. And there it is, all of it, our whole story. Silent night, the children lead us, holy night. All is calm. All is bright.

And here for a moment, in this scene, we enter the drama of the story and tell a piece of it, too, that otherwise would be left untold.

For Mary, Luke’s gospel tells us, also pauses to take it all in.

Having, as our children showed to us, been visited by an angel, traveled to Bethlehem, birthed God! – with all the sweat and blood and salty tears that show labor to be labor, and feeling whatever she might have been feeling: hungry and lonely, overwhelmed and loving.[2]

Now Mary pauses to treasure all these things, “holding them dear, deep within herself.”

That moment in the pageant tonight may have been the first time I’ve paused all of December.

How I need Mary’s witness tonight. Oh, how I need this invitation into Blessed Silence.[3]

Having labored so hard to bear God for us. Now pausing and inviting us to pause long enough to feel our hearts beating:

  • aligning with the heartbeat of the Christ Child,
  • aligning with his Mother the Theotokos / God-bearer,
  • aligning with the heartbeat of the universe.

For many of us this time of year is demanding – emotionally, logistically, physically. We try to keep up with normal work and family life, plus holiday recipes, concerts and light displays, the Christmas tree, tending to our own emotional needs and our children’s, all heightened by the pressure of the holidays and the joys and heartaches that accompany this time.

Whatever our lives look like right now: where we are joyful, or peaceful or empowered, wherever we are in sorrow, or scared, or mad… Remember this nativity scene – remember our collective pause. And know that this place is open for each of us, as a place of respite, a place that is sufficiently still and sufficiently quiet – even with three-hundred people and led by our children in costumes! – that we might pause to take it all in and to receive the immense gift that is offered to us in Christ.[4]

This is an invitation, not to add one more thing to the unending list of things to feel guilty about not doing, but an invitation to Presence.

To be present to those around us over the holiday season. To see and be seen, to know and to be known, to risk encounter and in that quiet vulnerability to be transformed by Christ.

I suspect this invitation to be calm and contemplative does us little good tonight! In just one minute our children will rejoin us, and we will continue with the Eucharist, and then off we’ll go for dinner (mine will be our standard Christmas Eve Thai takeout), and then bath time and Christmas pajamas, and cookies and milk set out, and hopefully enough calming of the excitement that sleep may prevail. And that’s just the next five hours!

My prayer for us is that we each find time to be like Mary, having birthed so much – now pausing for just a moment. Call to mind this last scene of our pageant as we ponder the immensity of our lives and of the God who comes so intimately close to us in the form of a baby.

Know that this sacred space and this sacred story and these sacred people – are here for you, for each other – seven days a week. All of it, our whole story.

Because of the Christ Child,

and because of the Bread we soon will share,

and because this night is holy.[5]

Merry Christmas, friends. Amen.

[1] This line is found in Godly Play’s script for Advent IV. See The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Revised and Expanded: Volume 3.

[2] See Kaitlin Hardy Shetler’s poem “Sometimes I Wonder.”

[3] This part comes from my meditation with the Holy Angel Hesychia icon in my church’s chapel.

[4] See Rowan Williams’ Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life, p. 34, where he wonders if the church can be a place that is dependable and sufficiently unanxious.

[5] This is my nod to Daniel Berrigan, SJ’s poem “Some.” Why do I claim that the church is for each of us, even as I am well aware of exclusionary patterns and unwelcome experienced by too many? Because of the Incarnation. Because of the Eucharist. Because of mysteries that are true regardless of us.

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