Sermon and Worship Service Archive
The Great Christmas Light Fight
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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Good morning, Church!
It is a joy to be here, worshipping with you today— coming into the heart of what we do as a community, and at such a thin and holy time of the year.
So, I believe that it is hard to preach to a congregation whom you don’t know just yet—and so, Trinity, I’m going to have you clutch your pearls for a moment while we do a little ‘get to know one another’ exercise. Are you ready?
Okay, so raise your hand if you are a multicolored lights on a Christmas tree person.
Raise your hand if you are a clear or white lights on a Christmas tree person.
Raise your hand if you think cutting down a living tree and tarting it up its corpse in a corner of your living space is horrifying on moral and practical grounds.
Raise your hand if the way you decorate for Christmas resembles the way your family of origin used to decorate for the holiday.
Raise your hand if the way you decorate for Christmas is exactly the opposite of your family of origin’s way of decorating, and this is your chosen post-teenage rebellion.
Raise your hand if you secretly look at your neighbor’s decorations and covet them.
Raise your hand if you secretly look at your neighbor’s decorations and covet them and don’t want to admit it publicly.
Raise your hand if your decorating preferences for the Christmas season matches the preferences of your spouse/ partner/ roommates/ family.
Raise your hand if you and your partner/ spouse/ roommate/ family get into an annual kvetch over the decorations that you wish to use for the Christmas season.
Raise your hand if your conflict over how you decorate the tree is one of deep and committed passive aggression.
Raise your hand if you have, at one point or another, taken down, changed or removed the decorations which your spouse/ partner/ roommate or family member had put up, just because they were not the way Christmas was supposed to look and feel, and they did not match your sense of either aesthetic or memory relating to the holiday, and clearly the coming Lord Jesus would and could not be born if the decorations in your own personal living space were wrong.
You know, just wildly speculating here, nothing from my own personal experience in these questions at all.
And, good. Now we know one another better.
Humorist David Sedaris once wrote that you could tell a lot about people from their answer to the question, ‘When do you open your Christmas presents?’ I feel the same way about decorating for the holidays— while we good New Englanders, or New Englanders-by[proximity, pretend to be chill and nonplussed by the capitalistic pleasures of going a teeny bit overboard- but not too much- for the holidays, how we prepare is actually deeply spiritual. Even if that spirituality comes by way of hiding your husband’s noxious LED lights in the basement. Again, wildly speculating here.
Sedaris continues, “People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to eating another big meal. Gifts are generally reserved for children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It’s nothing I’d want for myself, but I suppose it’s fine for those who prefer food and family to things of real value.”
Sometimes if feels like we are caught in this dichotomy of how to value this season approaching the incarnation—if we get too into Christmas in the weeks before the feast day, somehow we sense that we betray Emmanuel by not waiting for his birth. Or, we omit all festivity, embrace the moderated austerity of Advent, and then place all our hopes on the church to do it for us on Christmas Eve—an entire season in one, pressure-laden night.
To wit, sometimes we lessen the importance of the personally emotional piece of this season—this season where we prepare for God, for Emmanuel, for the One who comes and finds us, in something like the greatest love story we could tell—and judge ourselves when what we crave—what signals this love, comfort and deep presence—feels less than traditional piety.
So let’s try it again—how many of you were a little hesitant or embarrassed to tell one another about your Christmas decorating hangups this morning?
The gospel which catapults us into the Christmas story is that of Mary coming to meet Elizabeth in the scene traditionally known as the Visitation. The story of Elizabeth, pregnant with John, and accompanied by the mute Zechariah, welcomes pregnant Mary with love and open arms is drenched in emotion. We have heard it so many times that we limit its extraordinary ordinariness and make it into a performance piece—but it’s not. A woman, in possibly an arranged marriage, pregnant outside of that marriage, is shooed away to her relatives to reduce the judgment and glare of her neighbors at home. There, bearing a stranger within her, Mary is welcomed and seen and loved by her aunt—who loves her so much, who recognizes her situation so much, who believes in her so much that Mary is empowered and enlivened to sing a song of impossible hope which has echoed down to us through the ages, repeated nightly in our Evening Prayer services.
Has someone ever loved you so much, welcomed you as you are so much, taken you with all that you are when you show up with empty hands, and allowed you to sing a song of gratitude, joy and possibility in response?
As a good cradle Episcopalian (minus the Catholic baptism), I never quite read the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, in context until much later in life. I assumed that Mary sang it at Jesus’ birth, or when Gabriel approached her in the Annunciation.
But Mary’s song isn’t offered in one of those public places. It’s not in our pageants, it’s not in Mary’s outward response in the big moments of scripture. It’s only sung in the privacy of her family home. It’s only sung when the door is opened to her. It’s only sung when she feels safe enough to believe that with God anything is possible, and that that impossibility can begin with her.
For me, and maybe for you, Christmas doesn’t feel quite real until the organ hits that slightly discordant chord during O Come All Ye Faithful—or if you are fancy here at Trinity, Adeste Fidelus— when we sing ‘Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing’. But the Incarnation—not Christmas, but the Incarnation-- truly can’t begin until we take it into ourselves, and our homes, into our safest of spaces, and proclaim to ourselves—that yes, God loves us so much that God is here. With us. In the places where we lay down our swords, our curated selves and stories, our egos, our vulnerabilities and most of all, lay down our hearts.
Christmas is not about the lights we choose for our decorating—but it’s not NOT about those lights either. It’s about the deeply emotional and personal way we choose to prepare ourselves and our spaces to welcome the God who chose to be with us, and of us, and to live alongside us. It is the way we allow ourselves to feel the depth of memory—be those memories of joy or disappointment—and to discover that how we create space for this season, for this coming of Christ, matters. On occasion, I think that Elizabeth had a lot on her hands when Mary came to visit—deeply in the ‘advanced maternal age’ range, and with a husband who hadn’t been able to speak in months (although the loss/ benefit analysis of that situation is up for debate)—still, she welcomed Mary and in those moments, loved her and embraced her.
The season of Advent and the Incarnation is a deeply personal one, because we are an incarnate people. We are fleshy and imperfect, and filled with memories and hangups, and in some of us, aggressively passive aggressive approaches to tree trimming. In this season, we are reminded of the ways in which we were, or were not, welcomed ourselves. The gift of the incarnation is that in every living thing, we can discover the image of God. God who suffused Godself into the ordinary world, making it holy, even if it remains imperfect and still in the building process.
And in Elizabeth—we see an image of the God who welcomes us in, as we are. Who makes room for us. Who sees us not as a project for remediation or improvement, but as beloved, of value, and filled with the possibility of reflecting God’s love—magnifying God’s love—in the relationships we have and in our own homes and in our communities.
However you need to prepare yourself to welcome others in, as Elizabeth, or to be welcomed in by God, as Mary, this is your time to do it. However you need to create your space, to cultivate the reminders of holiness and light beyond light, do it now. In the holy temples of our personal interactions with friend and stranger where we can show love with our words and intention, do it now. Jesus is coming. Even if you have the wrong lights up on the tree. Jesus is coming. Let us make him room.
Amen and amen.