I had an electrician at my house Monday morning for a repair. He knows what I do for a living, and he asked me if I was ready for Christmas Eve service. “It’s only Monday,” I replied. “I still have a couple of days to get ready.”
People always imagine that ministers prepare for things far in advance, when, in fact, the opposite is true. I know this not just for myself, but from my colleagues. Saturday night is when ministers across the country gather on Facebook to agonize over our sermon writing.
For a long time I thought that late preparation was part of being a NEW minister, something I would outgrow. But I have actually learned that many of my more experienced colleagues don’t even sit down to write their sermons until—I’m not kidding—Sunday morning. And I have, myself, come to a certain amount of peace about the rhythm of ministry. The sermon comes when the sermon comes.
Ironically, THIS homily was finished days ago.
As many of you know, I live with three cats. They were all feral, and even though they’ve lived with us for 10 years, they are still skittish and easily frightened. I often chase the littlest kitty, wanting to pick her up and hold her. She always runs away when I chase her. But if I sit still and am quiet, she will sometimes come near and let me pet her.
Like my sermon, you see? When I chase it, it runs away, but when I have patience and wait for it, it comes to me.
Christmas is tomorrow, and many of you have been frantically busy. And are tired. That’s what I heard at this past Sunday’s worship service over and over again: “I’m tired,” “I have so much to do,” “My spouse couldn’t come because we’re getting ready for guests.” “I’m behind on my baking.” This is what I’ve been hearing since the start of December.
I wonder if you’ve been chasing Christmas.
More than just a religious holiday, and more than just a secular holiday, Christmas brings with it images of home, doesn’t it? A romantic and idealized vision of home. Did any of us come from a home like the ones we hear in Christmas songs? Sleigh rides, faithful friends, family all together, ..gleaming lovelight. What is lovelight? I don’t know, but I want some!
We work so hard this month, so many of us, trying to create that perfect Christmas. Working for it. Chasing it. By this time tomorrow, we’ll be happy…or we’ll be disappointed. Either way, by Friday morning, we’ll be glad to sleep in. So many of us are exhausted.
This is why Christmas Eve is my favorite expression of Christmas. Now, at least, here you are still and quiet. All is calm. All is bright.
Two thousand years ago, a baby was born on a night like this. Jesus, a miracle, like all babies are miracles. He would become a great teacher, a model of nonviolence, speaking out for justice and resisting forces of oppression. And on the night of his birth, he was just like any of us, vulnerable, needing care, all that lay ahead of him merely potential and possibility.
Christmas is so much about what we yearn for, but our yearning is for so much more than gifts and food. When we stop our shopping and cooking and decorating, when we stop chasing after Christmas and open our hearts and let it come to us, we know that Christmas is about all the best we have to offer each other: hope, generosity, love. Christmas is about justice, and making the world a better place, and yes, it’s even about salvation. Because if anything will save this broken and hurting world, surely it is more generosity, more love, and more justice.
Again, from the playwright: “For me, life is not Time; it is not this state of existence, for ever escaping us, slipping between our fingers and vanishing like a ghost as soon as you try to grasp it. For me it is, it must be, the present, presentness, plenitude.”
Now, before it slips between your fingers and vanishes like a ghost, be present to Christmas. Open your heart. Let it come, let it come.