On Christmas Eve
It's Christmas Eve, and all over the world, today, people will be gathering in their churches to worship and remember the story of how Hope came into the world and changed everything for everyone.
I have such beautiful memories of this night from so many years ago. I'm sure that you do, too.
When I was just a little kid, I remember attending Christmas Eve candlelight services at my grandmother's Methodist church in Colorado Springs.
I don't recall all that much about the services themselves, except that we sang Christmas carols, and I was allowed to hold a lit candle, which I stared at as if it was magical.
And there was a massive nativity on the church's chancel, surrounded by a Christmas tree, the Advent wreath, and other assorted beautiful things.
That nativity, like the ones that so many of us have in our homes, was perfect; the shepherds were neat and clean, the straw was immaculate, and the animals were all well-behaved and serene.
And, except for one of the wise men, all the characters were white.
But the first Christmas Eve was nothing like our nativities. On the night God became one of us to rescue all of us, there was no perfect Bavarian-styled stable, no wise men with gifts, no ultra-clean hay, and no immaculate clothing.
The stable was a cave carved into the side of a hill on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The new parents were immigrants, forced to be in town because the Empire demanded it of them. The shepherds were rough men, dirty and smelling of sheep.
This is how God came into the world on that night. God came to the edges.
I recently read that the question for many of us has always been: "Where is God?" Or, more specifically: "Where is God hiding?"
Fr. Richard Rohr writes:
The mystery we celebrate at Christmas is saying that the divine has chosen its hiding place in the world, and it’s in all material things. And that all becomes summed up now in the body of Jesus.
And the God revealed in the story of Christmas Eve is not a God entering into a safe world but at the edges of where we'd expect God to be.
We've sanitized the story, though. This is why we need to be reminded of something significant:
The story of Christianity isn't about that kind of God. It's not about a God who comes to us all nice, pretty, middle-class, and normal. This is a God who arrives to us in the brokenness of our lives, the troubling moments, the margins of our hope.
The beauty of that first Christmas Eve is that it tells how hope arrives when it looks like all hope is lost. It reminds us that God's rescue, redemption, and restoration come to us right where we are, right when we need it the most.
This is the kind of defiant hope that we need right now. The kind that doesn't curse the darkness but lights a candle. The kind of hope that can change the world. The kind of hope found in imperfection that makes all things perfectly whole.
On this Christmas Eve, may you be filled with joy that unto you is born this night the Savior, the Christ, the Lord. Hope is here. Peace is here. Love is here. God is here... with us.