It’s Christmas Eve, so I hope you will find it appropriate if I start this sermon with a Santa Claus story. There’s a wonderful scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle has replaced the Macy’s Santa and is talking with the children. One child stands to the side, silent. The woman who is with her explains that she is Dutch and can’t understand the English that is being spoken.
Well, without missing a beat, Kris Kringle starts talking to her in Dutch, as, of course, he is able. The girl brightens up and starts talking excitedly in her native tongue.
And, watching, I start crying like a baby.
It happens every time I see that movie, even though I know what’s coming.
It happens, in part, because it is a scene of such deep and simple human kindness. One person shows compassion to another in a way that changes everything.
I also think this small scene touches me because it speaks of a great human longing: we want to be addressed as we are, to be listened to as we are. We want to understand and to be understood. We want to be called out of our isolation and embraced by one who knows us and will take seriously all that the best within us hopes for.
We are individuals who want companionship and community. And there is something about this season, this night, this celebration that affirms such desires and makes them possible.
At the church I once served in Milwaukee, we had an organist who was an older woman, but Margaret still had a strong left hand and could play a mean boogie-woogie on the piano. She told me that during World War II, a group of German prisoners of war were held in Milwaukee, not far from her home. Every year on Christmas Eve, Margaret went to where the prisoners were and played Christmas carols for them on a poorly-tuned piano, bridging the great chasm of language and the even greater chasm of national enmity. Every year, the prisoners gently sang: “Stille nacht, heilige nacht”—“Silent night, holy night”—the music and the lyrics expressing the long-held and still contemporary desire for heavenly peace. Prisoners, far from home and all that was familiar, they knew in a small way the peace that goodwill between human beings creates.
Each year as Christmas approaches, our longing for that peace, our hope for the simple pleasures of human contact lead us to reach out in ways that we might not at other times.
All the searching and seeking that we do;
Every card we send in an attempt to be in touch with other people;
The unchecked impulses to give, to be kind;
Everything we make with our hands or bake in our ovens that we might give something of ourselves;
They all speak to our desire to reach out across the chasm and connect with others. They all remind us that it was as a human being—not as a spirit—that God chose to come to us.
The birth of Jesus is about the creator entering the creation as a creature: God becomes incarnate—takes on human flesh, bridging the great chasm between the human and the divine. The God who is with us is a God who understands what it is to be human, and understanding, forgives and calls us into the future.
At the center of all existence is a love that will not fail, a goodness that will stand.
This is the love of God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, shares our life and suffering, knows our fears and sorrows. This is the love of a God who desires our good, who will be our strength.
The Letter to the Hebrews begins with this amazing statement: “God spoke to us in many and various ways. Now God has spoken to us by a Son.” That is to say that God has now addressed us as one of us. This is the God who speaks in a language that we can understand. This is the God who understands us—our hopes and fears, our dreams.
Your hopes and dreams still count. They have not been forgotten by the God who gently breathes life into us so that we might hope and dream of something beyond what we can immediately touch and see.
This night, this hour marks the beginning of our yearly celebration of all that is good in this world: light that shines in the midst of darkness; peace on earth announced to a world filled with war; God’s pleasure with all people; wonder and amazement in a world that is not easily impressed; birth and new life in the very dead of winter.
The child who is born, is small enough, humble enough to hold everything: light, peace, wonder, our hopes and fears. In the manger is a savior who is Christ the Lord.