Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Different Kind of Christmas

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, December 24, 2001

A year can make a vast difference-- in the life of the world—and in our own individual lives:
Last Christmas, we were lighting candles to decorate.
This Christmas, we are lighting candles to commemorate.
Last Christmas, we were thinking about how good it would be to be rich.
This Christmas, we are thinking about how good it feels to be alive.
Last Christmas, we were counting our money.
This Christmas, we are counting our blessings.
Last Christmas, we thought angels were in heaven.
This Christmas, we know that some of them are right here on Earth.
Last Christmas, we were thinking about the madness of the holidays.
This Christmas, we are thinking about their meaning.
Last Christmas, we paid lip service to the meaning of Christmas.
This Christmas, we pay homage to it.
I don’t think it’s an accident that in legend upon legend, story upon story, Christmas always begins-- not with daybreak or with the coming of the morning—but at midnight. It was in the darkest hour of the night, and not in the bright morning’s glow, that the shepherds heard the angels sing. If it had been high noon, the Wise Men would have never seen the star.
A Czech philosopher tells us: “Sometimes, in order to see the stars, one must descend to the bottom of a well.”
Sometimes, in order to know the true value of the gift of hope, one must descend to the depths of despair. Without darkness, we would not be able to see the light that shines. When we are pushed to the wall, and everything is stripped away, we come face to face with what’s really important in life, and grasp its true meaning.
It’s a different kind of Christmas this year. Many people have remarked on that. The events of September 11th—the sadness of it, the fear, the uncertainty—followed by the strains of a war half-a-world away—have all conspired to cast our hoiday merriment in a much more subdued light. Even the weather didn’t help: unseasonably warm temperatures undermine the merriment and anticipation of those of us provincial Yankees who have stuck it out here in New England year after year. (It’s hard for some of us to get into the Christmas mood when the temperature hovers near 60 or 70 degrees in December. Though, of course, people all over the world have been doing it just fine for centuries—we are such prisoners of our history sometimes!)
Now, of course it’s true that every Christmas differs from all the others that have come before, or that will come afterwards. Christmastide is such an emotionally-laden season as it is; we heap so many layers of meaning onto it, and have such great expectations of it. Every year’s experience of Christmas adds another layer of meaning and expectation; the season’s events have their way of carving themselves into our brains, as it were.
And we bring to Christmas all of our personal needs and hopes, wanting them reflected in the gifts the season offers: As Gary Smith has written:  “Perhaps you need hope. Perhaps you are out of work or have given up looking. Perhaps you are unhappy in your job and are making compromises you do not want to make. Perhaps you are filled with sadness or grief in this season, remembering poignantly someone you have loved and lost. Perhaps you have resentments and anger that are weighing you down… Perhaps you are in a relationship that is going nowhere or you are alone… Perhaps you are disappointed in someone or someone is disappointed with you, and you are unable to live up to what you want to be or you cannot live down what you have been. Perhaps you are struggling in this season with the frustration of the ‘not yet’ or … of the ‘what if’. Perhaps you are struggling with the uncertainties of medical diagnoses, emotional instabilities, physical infirmities, and who knows how things will all come out for you or for someone you love.”
We bring to Christmas all that we are in any given season of our lives, and we see our lives reflected in especially stark relief—for better or for worse—in the Christmas glow. In the face of all of life’s toils and snares, trials and tribulations—in spite of all the inevitable changes life will deal us—Christmas offers its simple word of hope: Emmanuel—God is with us.
The Spirit of Life which touches and blesses and connects us all—the Love of God from which no human power can separate us—is with us still, wherever we are along the road of life.
In the face of a world which is often unkind and unfair, the Christmas angels tell us: Fear not!
And, they tell us: “Don’t just stand there! (Or sit there.)” They tell us:  “Light a candle in the darkness!”
Howard Thurman once wrote:
“I will light candles this Christmas.
Candles of joy, despite all the sadness.
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch.
Candles of courage where fear is ever present.
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days.
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens.
Candles of love to inspire all my living.
Candles that will burn all the year long.”
It’s all about candlelight, Christmas is. And stars that shine at midnight, to show us the way. And the light that shines in every human soul, when we remember: Emmanuel—God is with us, and within us, and in all that is. The fires of Creation burn deep within our souls.
Consider what one star does to a night,
One song to watchers on a lonely hill,
One candle, burning on a window-sill,
To a dark street. Think with what lovely light
One mother’s smile transforms to glory bright
Even a stable; or, when all is still,
One infant cry the careless heart can thrill,
One whispered hope prove more than armed might.
Then ponder how one man of humble birth,
Short-lived but Godward bent through all his course,
Has changed a world. Imagine what might be,
Since we are now so many souls, if we,
Using God’s best (perhaps God’s one real force)
Conspired to let God’s love loose upon the earth!
[Ted Conklin]
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/ God is not dead, nor does God sleep./ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/ with peace on earth, goodwill to all.” 
Much changes in our lives from year to year. But the abiding gifts of Christmas will never change. These three still abide—faith and hope and love. From year to year. Generation to generation. Age to age, and century to century. Some things never change. However different the world around us may seem, the truths at the heart of Christmas never change.
A blessed Christmas to you all.

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