It will be interesting to see how we all end up doing Christmas this year, won’t it?
Back in the 70s and 80s, well before our current circumstances, there were these two brothers-in-law somewhere in the Midwest who had a Christmas joke of regifting the same pair of moleskin pants back and forth year after year, with the twist that each year, the pants themselves became harder and harder to get to.
One year, one of them put the pants in the trunk of some junker car, which was then taken to a junkyard, tightly crushed into a metal cube…and then, you know, wrapped, ribbonned, and festively bowed for Christmas.
Mind you, we didn’t have the Internet back then.
This was covered by the Associated Press.
I don’t know what those brothers-in-law are up to these days, but you know that the restrictions of Coronavirus are nothing in the face of that kind of resolve.
God bless them for that.
But not everything translates.
Try as we may, the Gross Domestic Joy will be down.
I’ll miss some of the craziness of Christmas.
But even more than that, what I’ll really miss are all the little human moments that seem to happen in the midst of all that craziness.
At Christmastime, the world looks a more festive. I love that.
The world is also a little kinder, and I love that even more.
The little courtesies between us seem to mean more.
Jesus always described the Kingdom of God as something that was already breaking into our world.
It was always popping up, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere.
At Christmas, you can see that happen.
Have you ever been waiting on the checkout line at a store, and it turns out that you’re the customer who comes right after someone horrible…somebody mean, impatient, rude…
And then it’s your turn and you’re like, “Well, hello! How are you doing?”
…And the person behind the register looks at you like you should get the Nobel Peace prize.
Have you ever been to one of those potluck Christmas parties where it turns out everyone is a gourmet cook except for one person, and they just kind brought a bag of Tostitos they grabbed on the way, and the look on their face is just “Ohhhhh.”
But then someone else shows up and is like, “Tostitos! I’ll take those! Is there any cocktail sauce by any chance?”
At Christmas, in all kinds of ways, we remember to make a little room at the inn for other travelers.
These little things we do add up, and when they do, life in the world genuinely starts to feel different.
The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once asked, “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”
It’s a question that hovers over all of us at Christmas.
This is not to say that Christians have cornered the market on kindness.
Far from it.
But the Gospels make some distinctive points in the story of Christmas.
They tell us to look for the presence of God as somehow, mysteriously, here among us.
They tell us to find God’s love made visible among those who are largely invisible.
They tell us that, in Jesus, God walks the path of being human so that humanity might learn to walk the path toward God.
So in these quiet gestures of solidarity and sympathy we offer, Christians understand that the presence of God is somehow, mysteriously among us once again.
This is precisely what the Christmas story is trying to say.
You would be forgiven if that’s not quite what you think you heard in this morning’s Scripture.
The texts of Advent, these weeks before Christmas, are strong on the longing for a new and better world.
They may not know precisely what is to come, but they are very sure about how it will feel.
You can hear it in the prophet Isaiah’s words.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence,” he says, “as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil.”
His vision of God in this particular moment is majestic—kingly.
Isaiah sees God’s great entrance in the world as something that will thrill those who believe and terrify everybody else.
“When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, [and] the mountains quaked at your presence.”
It’s emphatically fire and brimstone.
There are moments in our Gospels that pick up on this, and there are some who seem to live their faith in something of that spirit.
But it’s one to be on fire for love or on fire for service, and something very different to become a self-righteous pyromaniac.
When you read about most of the earthly ministry of Jesus, it seems clear that he would rather have us light a candle than a bonfire.
Over and over again, Jesus makes point that what matters to him is what we do within our sphere to bring forth the kingdom.
He is forever healing people he meets, then sending them home…in some sense, back to their lives, back to some small corner of the world where God will use them to silently transform everything around them, kindness by kindness, gesture by gesture, candle by candle.
What makes something a miracle isn’t the degree of difficulty it requires, but what it means to the one receiving it—how it makes them feel the love of God.
The specific gesture is not the thing.
But to make the gesture is at the heart of what it is to live as Jesus teaches.
This is what true obedience to God requires.
This is what takes hold of us at Christmas, if we let it.
It still can.
We may be constrained in many ways, but we there is still ample room for kindness, and there are many situations when a gesture, even a small one, would still feel nothing short of miraculous to someone else.
Keep a lookout for those moments.
If the Devil couldn’t stop them…if King Herod couldn’t stop them…then certainly neither can Zoom.
Neither can quarantine.
Neither can worry, whether it be imagined or all too real.
However you do it, make a little room at the inn for someone.
In closing, I want to leave you with a memory from one of our culture’s great love letters to Christmas—a particular moment in the movie, “Miracle on 34thStreet.”
It’s a moment when someone does just that: makes a little room at the inn.
In the movie, you’ll remember that the idea is that the real Santa Claus ends up taking a job as the Santa at Macy’s in Herald Square.
Surprisingly or not, Macy’s turns out to be an important perch from which to proclaim the true meaning of Christmas.
The moment that always gets me, though, is when one day on the enormous line to go see Santa, a woman brings her adopted daughter to come see Santa.
A great deal is left unspoken.
The daughter has only recently arrived in New York.
She doesn’t speak a word of English – just Dutch, a language it turns out that her new mother does not speak.
The movie leaves it for us to infer that the little girl has been orphaned by the war and could not be cared for, with no choice but to seek a new life in a new place.
Her well-intentioned adoptive mother is tearfully trying to explain…well, some of this, anyway…when Santa looks at the little girl, who is sitting on his lap, and starts chatting with her…in fluent Dutch.
It is the smallest of things. The briefest moment of respite. And the greatest. The deepest reminder of the love that holds us all.
So it is that in the midst of our confusion and loneliness, Christmas intervenes, speaking our language in a foreign land, prompting us, in turn, to speak its language of kindness and peace, hope and wonder.
The language of miracles.
Don’t lose that in these days.
Find a way to live it once again.
Offer it in every way you can.
And may the world become a little more like Christmas because you are a little more like Christmas.