December 25, 2021; Christmas Day Sermon Preached by The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund
Year C; Christmas Day; 12.25.2021
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
This Prologue of John’s Gospel is the essence of God desiring so deeply to connect with human beings, us, God’s precious daughters and sons, that God was born to live among us. Instead of the word, “live,” some translations use the word, “dwell.” The meaning behind the words “to live” and “to dwell” literally is “to set up his tent” among us, to be our neighbor, to be our brother, to share in every way our humanity.
To dwell among us is to completely be immersed into the life, the joys, the sorrows and the full human experience in perfection. Jesus is that flesh dwelling among us, “full of grace and truth.”
For my daily Advent reading, I have been following a book of the late Roman Catholic Dutch priest and educator Henri Nouwen’s writings. Each day includes an excerpt from one of his books. His spirituality has influenced my faith for decades because he shares so honestly his struggles, his relationship with God and the joy of his faith.
The excerpt for Christmas Day comes from a journal he kept for the six months he dwelled with the people of Temporal Bolivia. He had been on the faculty of Harvard Divinity School when he quit that role and began a period of discernment as to whether or not God was calling him to ministry in Latin America. He found a Catholic Spanish language school in Bolivia and went there to serve as a priest and to learn to speak Spanish. He ultimately discerned that he wasn’t called to this ministry. But his journal has informed many in the way of discernment of call.
His book of daily journal entries during that period is called, “Gracias! A Latin American Journal.” Nouwen writes that he published this journal to help other Christians with their discernment of God’s will in their lives. He provides and honest daily reflection on God’s call for him, the ups and downs, certainties and doubts, and most of all, the falling in love with the people with whom he lived. One of my favorite stories he writes is his experience of Midnight Mass at the local church. I’d like to share his story from his journal with us this Christmas morning.
Nouwen writes, “God keeps calling us together from so many parts of the world. Although most people were Bolivians, and most of them from Temporal, there were brothers from Spain, visitors from the United States, Peter from Poland, and myself from Holland. And while we all are so aware of the conflicts and wars that result from the ethnic and geographic divisions between people, a celebration like [Christmas Mass] reveals again that God did not create these divisions but wants his people to come together in unity and peace. This joyful celebration unfolded with mystery and a few surprises, the first of which announced itself as a mechanical bird hidden in the Christmas tree! A large silver ball produced loud bird calls at regular intervals and the [parishioner] who acted as deacon during the liturgy was so enchanted with this gadget that he turned it on at the most unusual moments. Just before the [priest] started his sermon, the [parishioner] walked up to the tree and made the “metal bird” sing its songs. The [priest] didn’t seem to mind. He just raised his voice and competed happily with the bird, who interrupted every second sentence of his sermon with its calls. When the [priest] invited me to add a few words to his, I first sent the [parishioner] up to the tree to shut the bird up. My Spanish is bad enough; I don’t need an artificial bird to punctuate it.
“The lights went out during communion, a second surprise. The electricity fails regularly in Bolivia, but this interruption created more confusion than usual. Luckily, many people had Christmas candles with them, and thus we were able to continue and finish the service without many problems. The singing of “Noche de Paz” (“ Silent Night”) by candlelight added to the Christmas mood. The third surprise—at least for me—…were the “niños” (baby Jesus dolls). While celebrating the Eucharist…I was surrounded by baby dolls, small and large, naked and elaborately dressed, lying on simple cushions or hidden in large glass cases. I never saw so many Jesus-babies together in my life. I soon found out that it belongs to the folk tradition that the baby Jesus has to hear Mass on Christmas day. Therefore, families take their Christmas child out of his [manger] and bring him to church. After Mass…I was busy for quite awhile blessing all the dolls and giving ample attention to the different ways the baby Jesus looked.
“But whatever the surprises were, all the people were happy, joyful, and pleased with this holy night, and everyone went home saying or shouting to each other: “Feliz Navidad!”….When I looked up to the sky, I saw a splendid firmament richly decorated with bright stars singing their praises to the newborn child. And we, little people with our candles, rosaries, and dolls, smiled at the heavens and heard the song again: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men and women and children who enjoy his favor.”
“The Light shines in the darkness of a poor Bolivian town when the electricity goes out. The Light shines in the darkness bringing the joy of Christ’s birth to the world. Indeed, the Word dwells among us today and every day, and today in Brunswick we sing, “Joy to the World!”