In the Silence of This Night
This past month has been a hectic one, has it not? Beginning on Thanksgiving we have all been frantically preparing for Christmas. We all had stores to visit, places to go, people to see, things to buy, cards to mail, food to prepare and so on. And so then, on this night, we are gathered to worship the God who is enfleshed in Jesus and who is laying quietly and peacefully in the manger in the far away cave in the hills around Bethlehem. But we have also come in the night to worship to Jesus who hangs from the cross on a hill called Golgotha. The manger and the cross. We need to see both together on this night! In fact it is only by seeing them both together that we can truely understand and experience the depth and reality of the Gospel.
The cross? Yes, the cross – that is ultimately what Christmas is all about - the cross of Jesus!
It is easy for us to get distracted from this. It is partly the noise that surrounds this holiday – the commercialism is just one of the noisy elements of the season, but not the only one. There is also the sentimentality that fills this season. Christmas, we say, is about Joy to the world, glory to God and Peace on earth. True enough! But Christmas is also about loss, and grief and fear and poverty and loneliness and violence and death – it is about the cross! We don’t see the cross because we don’t want to see the cross - we want warm fuzzy Christmas – angels, shepherds, wise men, mother and child is a clean and clear stable with passive animals.
The 1st Christmas was not so warm and fuzzy though. I have said before – the Christmas story as told by both Luke and Matthew is a dark story. It is a story about oppression, fear, rejection and terror – this is a story that does not try to sugar coat this reality of human life but presents the it in all its stark reality. It is then a story about how God enters into this darkness and fear and oppression and rejection and loss and loneliness and terror and death; and brings light and life and hope and love and unconditional acceptance and community and grace and peace.
This cast of characters that populate the Christmas story represents the absolute worst of human experience – poverty, deprivation, oppression, selfishness and hate. It is into this that Christ is born – it is into all of this that God enters.
The birth story then is about the human experience; the ins and outs of human life in all of its glory and misery. Those of us who call ourselves Christians need always to remember that on this night, on this silent night, while we argue about this political issue or that, or while we congratulate ourselves for our moral righteousness, or while we spend time demanding entitlement or what we think the world owes us – there are at the same time human beings who on this night, in the silence of this night are hungry, afraid, filled with terror, rejected and lonely; there are human persons whom God loves madly and passionately and for whom God was born in Jesus and died on the cross who are in despair because of the hate they feel is directed at them, or who are trapped in an addiction, or a cycle of violence, or a state of self-loathing or all of the above; there are people, old and young who are desperately lonely and filled with grief. There are people who are ill and suffering – this night – this silent night!
That is why as we gaze at the manger on this silent night we need to see both the Christ child as an infant laying in a manger and the adult Jesus hanging from the cross. For the cross is the climax of the promise that God has entered into all of those dark human experiences – ALL of them! The cross reminds us that we cannot scare God away, we cannot push God away, we cannot make God abandon us! Someone said to me not so long ago – “Isn’t it true that God will soon have enough of us humans and will leave and abandon us to destroy ourselves!” – No! It is NOT true! It is not possible The baby in the manger and Jesus on the cross are both signs of God’s commitment to us. God is in it for the long haul – Nothing can force God to abandon us – NOTHING!
And so, in this silent night we gaze at the baby in the manger; and we gaze at Jesus on the cross and remember that God has entered into the darkness and brought light, God has entered into every dimension of human life and brought forgiveness and Grace. And only then we can voice words of praise and join the song of the Angels: Glory to God – For this God we worship, this God we celebrate loves us madly, passionately and unconditionally. That is the Gospel of Christmas!