Every December, our family spends a fair bit of time watching Christmas movies, gathering regularly in front of the t.v. in a way that we mostly don’t at other times of the year.
It’s a lovely tradition we have – particularly because I fondly remember watching some of the same shows with my family when I was kid. Rudolph. Frosty. The Grinch. A Christmas Carol. It’s a Wonderful Life.
It’s amazing how some things have stood the test of time.
But some parts of the overall experience have changed.
For example, it is hard to explain to my kids why having a remote control for the t.v. makes me worry that they’re spoiled.
You see, I come from a time when, if you were a kid, the only remote control your family had was you.
If the family was switching from one channel to another, that meant that the kid had to hop up and (MG: duh-duh-duh-duh) switch it.
Now there were only about five and a half channels, but still.
And it didn’t stop there, did it?
I mean, just because you were switching didn’t mean you could just twist the dial and then plotz back on the couch.
It also demanded participation in the precise and mysterious art of tuning in a t.v.
Adjusting the rabbit ears.
Do you remember?
Do you remember how CBS could have one typical configuration, but NBC and ABC each had something entirely different?
In New York City, getting WPIX/Channel 11 was a whole thing, but that was where you watched the Yankees, so if the game was important, you would be there fifteen minutes before, you’d be factoring in cloud cover and wind…it was like trying to land a plane at LaGuardia.
Plus, there was the whole thing that if you touched the rabbit ears, your own actual body became part of the antenna.
That made the picture better than it actually was, so to get it right…actually right…you had to touch-and stand back, touch-and stand back, going millimeter by millimeter, while everyone else in the room shouted at you about whether you had it or not. Or they just made you stand there until the next commercial.
Friends, in 1974, this was what “togetherness” looked like.
The children do not understand.
And yet, it really was something when you were standing there, breath held, eyes locked, fingers attentive like a safe cracker’s, and suddenly you’d find the one, the only, magic spot, and the picture would come in juuust right.
One minute static and snow, static and snow, static and…then: there it was. A window on a new world.
And peace and gladness and harmony would reign at last.
In its own way, Christmas is something like that, too.
Certainly, it’s a window on a new world.
It seeks to cut through the static and the snow of life as we have come to know it.
And it shows us what the world looks like when we remember that nothing is impossible with God.
Because that’s what so many of them gathered around the manger had started to remember.
That’s what the angel had told each one of them at some point along the way.
Think of all the angel visits in this story.
An angel greets Zechariah in the Temple and Mary in Nazareth, then Joseph, and so on, and so on, all the way to the shepherds watching their fields by night.
These people come into the story already astonishingly faithful, but as it turns out, that isn’t really the point.
Because plugged into their faith as they are, they’re still fiddling with their reception, too.
As the gospel makes clear, whatever has gotten them where they are, nothing has prepared them – even them – for the sheer, life-giving, creative power of God.
God seems almost to crash into their lives.
And what becomes clear is that God is intent on life and liberation, and ready to upend every rule to make it so.
And so we get this story of impossible thing after impossible thing that somehow happens.
The story of Christmas.
Do you remember?
Because that’s what this is.
All these impossible things.
An old man is struck dumb, and his barren wife conceives.
Then her young cousin, a virgin, conceives.
Scientists in silk robes set out to follow a star and come to kneel beneath it, with precious gifts to lay before a baby in a barnyard.
Scraggly shepherds, each one looking like an unmade bed, come in from the cold and are welcomed.
Meanwhile, back in his palace, the King of Judea in his monogrammed pjs quakes in fear, suspecting that at long last, his chickens have started coming home to roost.
And in Rome, an oblivious Caesar thinks what he’s doing is imposing a new tax across his empire.
In fact, what he is really doing is seeing to it that one of Israel’s ancient and most cherished prophecies comes true.
What does it all mean?
It means that the powers and principalities of a broken world have just booked their first class tickets on the Titanic.
Because now a very different vision of the world than theirs is about to come into view—the vision the Prophets had foretold.
Everything was about to change.
And it has.
Because of that vision, even in the darkest times, there would always be a candle burning somewhere.
Because of that vision, there would always be someone who could remember…someone made stronger by the power of hope…someone ennobled by the love of God…someone enabled to be a force for good…someone prepared to call God’s people to be the hands and feet of God, as God has asked us to be.
That’s what suddenly came into view at Christmas.
The snow and static disappeared, and the world was attuned to the purposes of God.
So Christmas is a window on a new world.
A world where even seemingly impossible things are happening…and all of them serving to make the point that when it comes lives transformed and our own call to sacred work discovered, nothing…nothing then and nothing now…is impossible with God.
If you ask me, this is what the world manages to find again at Christmas.
During these weeks, we remember a lot that we seem to let ourselves forget.
Not all of us are so forgetful, of course.
Surely there are saints among us who live as more or less permanent residents of Christmas, and who embody everything it stands for.
But most of us don’t rise to that level.
The vast majority of us are works-in-progress.
We’re not as joyful or as patient or generous as we’d like to be.
We struggle to let go of old fears and to do the right thing.
Maybe most of all, we can’t imagine a world that operates according to different rules than the ones we’ve come to know so well.
And yet, at Christmas, for a little while, anyway, the static and snow vanish again, and that different world pops into view.
People are kinder and try harder.
Some even seem to find a strength they may not have known they had….and do things they didn’t imagine they could do…to give in ways they didn’t know they could give.
And somehow, between it being enough of us trying all at once and the season going on for long enough, we start to say “what if…”?
What if this is how it could be?
What if we were serious about a more loving and merciful world?
What if this was what we focused on…making a world more like this, and for more people?
Isn’t that what life is all about? Wouldn’t that be a joy?
It’s not impossible, at all.
It’s right here.
God’s future has already started to arrive.
Cutting through all the snow and static, in Jesus, we are tuned in to God’s vision for the world, and the silent night leads us to a glorious new day.