Christmas Eve, Year C
Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2015


Those who know me well know that I am a fool for many things – or some
might say, a fool in many ways. I’m a fool for football and books and old movies
and for lots of Christmas things: gifts, sweets, and trees among other delights. But
perhaps above all else, above all other passions, way, way off the deep end of the
fool scale – I am a fool for snow. I am a fool for snow in a way that only one who
has never lived north of Norfolk, Virginia, can be. I have absolutely no experience
whatsoever of shoveling snow off driveways, of driving behind snowplows, of the
oppressive presence of piles of dirty city snow in early March. No – my snow,
Southern boy that I am, is a declaration of independence. Half an inch of
Accumulation equals closing of schools, getting off work, and declaring a holiday.
And so I spend each winter checking the skies and hoping.

I come by my snow mania honestly – it is apparently genetic. My mother
was known to get a house full of peaceful sleepers up on their feet in the very
middle of the night to see a few pitiful flakes. She was always a bit surprised at
the grim reaction of the newly awakened to her glad tidings: “It’s snowing!” I
have in my possession a sled – a flexible flyer sled that I have owned for over
thirty years and have used four or five times. It sits hopefully in our attic, ready to
spring into action and sure to be taken down with the first few flakes. If I die
muttering “Rosebud”, it will be because my sled has been badly underused. So
there I am – a fool.

The very height of my snow-foolishness, the acme of my longing, the never-
achieved bliss of my dreams, is snow on Christmas Eve. I long for it. Now I don’t
want a blizzard to paralyze shopping or endanger travel. I certainly want a safe
journey to and from church on Christmas Eve night. But each year as I leave the
midnight service, as I walk out the door with “Joy to the World” ringing in my ears
into the dark and, in normal years, cold night – into that moment that is for me the
essence of Christmas – I always look up at the sky. Often I am consoled by a
vision of bright, hard stars in the crystalline winter sky. And my heart is at peace.
But that’s not what I look for – I look for falling flakes. I want the snow to begin –
begin right then and continue on through the night, wrapping us all up and leaving
our Christmas morning snowbound.

In 1963 or ’64 in Meridian it snowed two or three days before Christmas
with some modest accumulation. Hope soared. On that Christmas Day, much like
year, the temperature hit 73 degrees. That’s the closest I’ve ever come. And I
certainly won’t get it this year. So the question I ask myself – and I ask you too –
because I know I’m not the only fool here tonight – is “Why”? Why do I want a
snowy Christmas so much? Why do I desire something which has nothing to do
with my heritage or experience and is just an annual invitation to frustration?
Why? Well, in part the answer is advertising. Our lives are shaped by a culture
Which has held out New England and Old England as our Yuletide models. That’s
the influence that leads Southern hostesses in years like this one to run the
air conditioner so they can have a blazing fire in the fireplace for the Christmas
party. It’s Bing Crosby’s fault – that’s part of the answer.

But there is, I think, a deeper desire expressed there as well. It is the desire
for deep peace, for beauty, for transformative magic. It’s the deep longing for
redemption and meaning that lies at the heart of most of our Christmas
disappointments and many of our Christmas joys. In my imagination the snow
falls softly and quietly while silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
The flakes fill the air, each different, each beautiful, giving a reason for staring
Endlessly out the window at the sky –a gift from above. The snow covers the
roads and gradually, as we all reach our homes, the noise subsides, and there is
a deep stillness, a hushed expectancy, as all is calm, all is bright. Soon snow
covers the yards of our neighborhood, hiding the brown leaves of winter, hiding
the cluttered back yard, turning the imperfect into perfection. Houses humble and
grand are coated with white icing, the saddest shack turned into an ice palace, a
magic cottage. And inside our house we are drawn together by the magic, by the
silent solemnity of it all, by the warmth and safety of our fire, now beautiful and
life-preserving, even if only made by gas logs, connecting us to the winters of our
ancestors now at rest and uniting us in warmer, nearer bonds of love. There is,
in my mind’s eye, in this ideal snow of a Christmas midnight a giftedness, a from-
aboveness, a sense of being blanketed in an unexpected grace, in the very presence
of God among us. I think that my longing for Christmas snow is a heartfelt cry and
yearning for salvation, for a safe harbor, for the redemption of the world.

And so it is with all of us on this not-cold night, our Christmas lights
burning brightly against the somber, dark, and disappointingly snowless air. We
have all come here for something, you and I. For some of us this service is a part
of the regular pattern of our lives – pattern that basically follows the rule that when
the church doors are open, you go in. Others of us are here to renew connection
with church or to start a new habit or because it seems like a Christmas thing to do
or because your family made you come or because you are lonely or because some
impulse moved you to come. And I say to you that all of these reasons, that all of
us together, are in this way the same. Deep, deep within us, down in the secret,
uncharted places in our hearts is a longing for the healing presence of God – for the
healing presence of God in our lives, blanketing us like new-fallen snow, covering
the sad, the tawdry, the unhealed, the broken places, covering them all with new
beauty, new meaning, with new possibilities. We need God so badly, not God in
far off golden heaven, but here, right here among us.

And so we have, you and I, managed once again to find our way here, to find
our way to Bethlehem. Each of us has come by a different path. The wise men
steer by a start, using their scholarship, their learning, their powerful connections
in king’s palaces. Mary and Joseph come in the ordinary course of their lives, the
press of government and business matter and family connections leading them to
an unexpected place. The shepherds, outcasts that they are, come because an angel
chorus, streaming clouds of glory, open their eyes to the revelation of God. And
we come too, for a variety of reasons, with a variety of emotions and fears and
attitudes – happy, sleepy, bored, a little tipsy, excited, afraid, content. We come
to Bethlehem to see this thing which has come to pass which the Lord has made
know to us – to see the child, the promised one.

Behind our altar, behind the altar of nearly every church, stands a cross, an
image of execution, of God and humanity met in one man, met in suffering and
shame which presage unexpected triumph. That is one image of our faith, perhaps
the central image. But there is another image too. It is a picture of a stable, a bed
of straw, a gentle lamplight, of familiar barnyard noises, of warmth on a winter’s
night, of a mother and father’s love and joy and relief, of visiting strangers with
wild stories, and all, all of it centered on a baby. A baby in all its innocence and
weakness, in its utter dependence on the love and nurture of others, in its promise
of a life to be lived. God comes to us in unexpected ways – in weakness, in
humility, in love. And we have heard the call of that baby, its gentle crying
drawing us out of our homes into the dark night, bringing as the song says,
healing in his wings.

This is the place of magic, the place of glory, the pace of healing and change
Deep in the dark of night, deep in the dark of our lives, God comes and hope
springs up, and we are changed and redeemed and saved. That is the glory of this
night – that is the hope of our lives. And it is a beginning. It all begins when we
come to Bethlehem. This is where we start, and tonight it begins. May the
blessings of this holy night shine in your heart. May you find the joy and peace for
which you yearn. May you begin this night to make a home for the one who
comes into the world this night, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a
manger. And in your hearts, if not in this year’s skies, because God loves you
so, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Merry Christmas!