And so this is Christmas, I want to say with John Lennon, who, by the way, would have celebrated his 75th birthday this year had he not been murdered in 1980. So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun.
Another year over. And what a year this has been! Millions had to flee their home countries because of war and terror – and the world is confronted with one of the greatest humanitarian crises in recorded history. In this country, there never had been as many mass shootings as in 2015. Terrorism is on the rise. Events in places like Charleston and Paris this past year have shown us that we cannot gather safely anywhere anymore, be it in a church or out for fun on a Friday night. Dangerous rhetoric all over the world lead to more and more polarization between people of different color or creed. Instead of solving issues, we rather look for scapegoats whom we can blame. And guess what: this doesn’t solve anything.
And what did you have to go through in your personal lives? I had a good year, but if your year was anything like mine, you still had to deal with losses, hurt, grief, and anxieties.
And so this is Christmas.
I know that many long for something special during Christmas. What do you long for?
It’s not surprising to me that movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a wonderful life”, and, of course, Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ with their messages of hope and God’s mysterious and miraculous intervention in not so hopeful circumstances are perennial classics. The stories of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” take place during times that are tough for many of the characters in the stories. These stories are important not because they are rosy pictures of Christmas, because they show people in hardship recovering the spirit of Christmas. And “Miracle on 34th Street” is about people allowing themselves to believe in the spirit of Christmas even when the world around them tells them it’s unrealistic to believe.
It’s not surprising to me that many holiday cards we send and receive are rather whimsical, depicting some serene landscape, be it the manger in Bethlehem or some winter wonderland, giving us a sense of quiet and peace.
It is not surprising to me that, for Christmas, most of us want to be ‘home’, wherever that is, surrounded by those who are important to us and whom we love. It is not surprising to me, that, in a world which seems to become less and less predictable and more and more fast-paced with each passing year, we need to feel, at least once a year, that we belong. We need something that grounds us, something which gives us stability.
It is often said that on Christmas, God makes a home among the people, with all humanity. But, if you think about it, this ‘home’ doesn’t have much to do with the homely snow buried cottages, chimneys smoking, which we see in many holiday cards. It doesn’t even have much to do with the stables we see depicted in so many manger scenes; stables that look way too clean, way too spacious, way too quiet, way too welcoming and warm. No, God’s first home among mortals was a filthy, cramped, makeshift, drafty shelter, maybe little better than a cave. God was born among animals because humans couldn’t make any room for God. The first human beings to see the newborn were homeless themselves, shepherds for whom there was no room in society.
God’s home among mortals continued to be a rather disturbed one – Jesus was barely born when his parents had to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s jealous killing spree. And even the grown-up Jesus, after starting his ministry, had a life on the road and would say about himself, ‘Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest.’ Even the name he was given, Jesus of Nazareth, identifies him as a stranger, an unmoored traveler from some other, obscure town.
God wasn’t warmly welcomed among mortals. The home God found with mortals can be described as a dysfunctional home. The world didn’t miraculously turn into a kingdom of peace the moment Jesus was born. Human suffering and strife continued. And yet – God has made a home among us. God chose to partake in all our human experiences, God wasn’t below becoming so small as to take the painful way through birth into life all humans have to go through. God wasn’t below becoming truly one of us, going through the same kind of heartbreak and disappointments and longing and suffering and death we all go through. God chose to be truly with us in all our human experiences.
And so this is Christmas. Our world still is not perfect. Our longings as we celebrate this holy day reflect what we are missing – as individuals, but also we as a human family. We still have to deal with the messes of this world, the messes of our lives. Even and maybe especially at Christmas we see all our longing expectations disappointed, when the family gathering is not as peaceful and joyful as we hoped, when we have to spend this day away from those we feel we belong to.
But maybe it is this longing which is at the heart of the Christmas miracle. Behind the babe in the manger is God’s longing to truly connect with all humankind, the longing for ‘God and sinner reconciled’, as we sing. Behind our celebration of Christmas is the longing for a better, more just, more loving, more sharing world. Where there is longing, we know there is the possibility of something better, and there is hope. And where there is hope, there is that light that shines in the darkness, giving direction to all who walk in darkness. The light guides us to where we ultimately belong – home with God.
And this longing even infects people like John Lennon, who admitted to having issues with Christianity and may have been, like Ebenezer Scrooge, quite cynical at times about all the Christmas cheer. But even Lennon could sing about his longing and hope:
And so this is Christmas
for weak and for strong,
for rich and the poor ones.
The road is so long.
And so happy Christmas
for black and for white,
for yellow and red ones.
Let’s stop all the fight.
A very merry Christmas
and a happy new year.
Let’s hope it’s a good one
without any fear.
May all our longings be fulfilled. And may we work towards the vision God has for all creation: a vison of peace and goodwill among all people.