Year C; Christmas Eve; 12.24.2018
Peace and joy to you this Christmas Eve! Many of us are preparing feasts for family or friends tomorrow as we celebrate a day off. I’ll be preparing a feast at my house tomorrow. I love to cook, and I’m looking forward to cooking and baking. I love to gather recipes, make lists of groceries and then shop. Saturday was my only day to shop for the groceries, so I went to Wal-Mart because I needed big bags of dog and cat food at good prices in addition to all the groceries.
Wow! EVERYONE in the greater Brunswick area was at Wal-Mart on Saturday! Check-out lines stretched forever it seemed. I arrived for check-out with a very full cart and quickly assessed the situation. Which line seemed to be moving? Which line seemed to be hung up by a confused shopper or an indifferent cashier?
So, I got in the line of a very efficient, speedy-looking cashier. That line was longer than others, but the cashier was all business and even did some trouble-shooting that would have taken other cashiers much longer.
Eventually, I was next in line. I placed my things on the conveyor belt. I had been impressed with this cashier beyond her speed and efficiency. Her appearance told me that she cared about how she looked even in the blue Wal-Mart apron! She might have been her late 60s. Her hair was swept up off her face with a pretty hair clip. Her earrings were small, round brown shiny glass surrounded by small rhinestones. She was wearing a brown long-sleeved sweater under that ugly blue Wal-Mart Cashiers apron. She wore a pretty ivory beaded multi-strand necklace around her neck with an ivory beaded bracelet to match. When it was my turn in line, I handed her my shopping bags and said, “I love your look. You look beautiful.”
Without looking up she said, “I’m 70.” “What?” I said. “I’m 70 and I’ve been divorced for 10 years.” She is still checking me out and bagging my groceries as efficiently as ever. Now, I’m leaning in to listen to her story. “Yep. He was ‘stepping out’ with five women while he was married to me. I’m so much better off now. HE’S not. He’s alone, sick and alcoholic, and I feel sorry for him.”
She talked about her daughter’s marital troubles that looked like hers and said she wasn’t going to tell her daughter what to do. She’s still efficiently scanning and bagging my groceries! She said, “I grew up with alcoholic parents. It was a difficult life, but I’m ok now.”
I said, “You are beautiful, intelligent and know what you want and don’t want.” She said, “Yes, that’s true. And I’m strong.” Then she reached over with the bar code reader, swiped the bags of dog and cat food and told me my amount. As I put my debit card in the reader, I asked if she had to work on Christmas or is the store closed. She said she was off for the next four days and smiled. We parted sharing a Christmas greeting.
I don’t know why, but on my way to the car I began to weep. I thanked God for her and the easy conversation we had over the Wal-Mart check-out station. I respected her. I felt a god-love for her, as if THIS is exactly what God-made-man came to show us humans. To love one another, EVEN a stranger. It felt like a holy moment in such a brief, human connection.
I came home and read the story of the Nativity we just heard tonight. My meditation on the text focused on the pregnant woman Mary, around whom the capricious swirling of governments caused her and her husband to be dislodged from their home in Nazareth to make a long journey to his ancestral home, Bethlehem…to be enrolled, registered, counted for a census.
The Emperor had apparently, impulsively ordered a census in Palestine, and delegated this task to his Governor Quirinius located in Syria. Clearly, the Emperor wanted to know who lived where and what they were worth, most likely for the Emperor to be able to claim a portion of their worth for the State.
Scholars may argue with the true history of the dates and names of Emperor Augustus, his census and Governor Quirinius. But historical or not, it is a fact that throughout history and even in the present times emperors and governments make capricious self-serving decisions that affect the people they are to serve.
And so, the holy story unfolds not as fantasy or myth, but as real. Mary and Joseph, Mary quite ready-to-deliver child, traveled to Bethlehem where on that night lodging was not available due to the over-crowding. There was no place for Mary and Joseph to stay for the night. Mercifully, they were ushered into a barn where Mary soon began her birth contractions. She gave birth to God in the flesh, Jesus, her first-born son.
Oh, I do love this story! I love the Heavenly Host and patient Joseph. I love the lowly beasts and the delighted dirty shepherds. And yet, to me, something is missing. I want so much for the story to share an interaction Mary might have had with an older, experienced, sympathetic woman, maybe her mother or mother-in-law, with whom she could confide and share her womanly worries of giving birth.
Can’t we briefly take creative license and imagine a beautiful 70-year-old woman who had lived and loved and had come into her own after raising multiple, possibly difficult children, standing by Mary, ready to help her? What if this newfound friend was at her side, smiling knowingly and kindly, peacefully tending to the messiness of childbirth? What would her name be?
Certainly, if there is a “Little Drummer Boy” imagined at the manger, why CAN’T there be an older woman? A woman who knew exactly the kind of bands of cloth and the swaddling technique, who then got more fresh hay, patted it down, covered Mary and handed her the fully swaddled, holy child!
Tonight we celebrate that God is profoundly with us, born of a human mother with her humanity dwelling in her child. The in-breaking of Jesus’ birth means to us that God is no longer looking on us from a high, heavenly perch. God is eye-level with us. God is with us in Jesus who walked the earth and showed us how he loves. “Love one another as I have loved you. This is the greatest commandment, that you have love for one another.”
The meaning of God in Christ, God With Us, is literally God becomes human, really human…God wants us to be human, really human.
What does it mean to be human as Christ was human? It means to take the risk to meet and accept someone, a stranger, where they are and listen to their story. It means to connect with a human with whom you know you do not agree and enter into a conversation instead of a shouting match. To be human as Christ was human means to connect on a human level and allow for God’s love to grow.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in one of his late letters from Tegel prison, a few months before he was put to death wrote movingly about God and humankind fully engaging with the meaning of Advent and Christmas. He wrote, “When God chooses Mary as the means when God himself wants to come into the world in the manger of Bethlehem, this is not an idyllic family affair. It is instead the beginning of a complete reversal, a new ordering of all things on this earth. If we want to participate in this Advent and Christmas event, we cannot simply sit there like spectators in a theater and enjoy all the friendly pictures. Rather, we must join in the action that is taking place and be drawn into this reversal of all things ourselves…”
God in Christ loves us first. Join the action of Christmas and pass it on!