My sermon for Christmas Eve was based on Luke 2: 1-20.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
I always feel guilty around Christmas. The reason is that I don't like Christmas as much as I think I should.
As a priest, I deliver sermons on hope, love, kindness, patience, etc, etc, and I have to admit that sometimes, even while delivering one of those sermons, I feel anything BUT any of those things I just mentioned.
Let's be realistic: we know the reason for the season, but the reality of the season is that most of us are stressed out buying gifts, finishing up work projects, booking vacations, making plans to visit family (some of whom we may not get along with), herding children, cooking for Christmas parties, attending special church functions, and so on and so forth.
So while Christmas is supposed to be about peace, it is often utter chaos.
But this year I got to thinking about what the first Christmas must have been like and suddenly I didn't feel so bad.
Let's go over the story:
Mary and Joseph have to go from Nazareth to Bethelem, some 100+ km (I mistakenly said 200 miles in my audio...mea culpa for not fact checking) in order to be registered by Emperor Augustus. It should be mentioned that they had to get registered in order to pay taxes to the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had conquered the area. Imagine if you will having to travel that distance in order to pay taxes to the people who had conquered your country...not a good recipe for happy thoughts to begin with.
Second, they have to travel at the coldest time of year, which is still pretty mild compared to Canada, but still pretty cold at night.
Third, they have to travel by donkey. If you have ever ridden a horse or a donkey, you are aware that this is not the most comfortable way to travel, particularly (I would imagine) if you are super pregnant as Mary was.
Fourth, when they arrive in Bethlehem, they are told there is no room at the inn. Have you ever pulled in to a strange city in the dead of night and not been able to find a hotel room? Did you feel remotely hopeful, peaceful or calm at that point?
Fifth, Mary has to give birth in a barn. No sanitary hospital with bright lighting, no doctor, nurse or midwife, no epidural, no hot water, no towels, no nothing. Surrounded by animals who make animal sounds and animal smells, she has to go through what I have been told is the most excruciating pain a person can go through. I am not certain of Jewish purity laws surrounding birth, but I am reasonable confident that the circumstances must have broken a few dozen laws which would have been important to observant Jews like Mary and Joseph.
Sixth, once she gives birth, three shepherds, complete strangers wander in and announce that angels had told them they should come and find Mary and Joseph. Hot on their heels, three "Kings" from foreign countries (and remember how observant Jews felt about foreigners) show up and say they followed a star to find them.
Does anything about that night sound remotely silent, holy, peaceful or calm? Far from it, that sounds like the most chaotic and insane night you can possible imagine. The only thing missing is getting in a fight with a bouncer and stealing a traffic cone for your frat house.
But in the midst of all this chaos, a child is born. The birth of any child is, as far as I am concerned, a miracle in and of itself. But this child in particular was the Christ: the wisest, most compassionate, most loving, tolerant and patient being the world has ever known. The closest example of God in the world that humans have ever known.
Despite the pain of birth, I have never heard a woman say after having their child laid upon their breast, "That was totally not worth it". Far from it, every woman I know would do it over again, and many have.
This child was laid on the bosom of the world to lead us, to teach us, to show us how we should treat one another and to show us how we should live our faith. This is the peace in the midst of chaos that we have been looking for.
I hope over the course of the holidays this year you have been able to carve out some time to be peaceful, to be hopeful, to find time to love and to be loved. Sometimes you literally have to carve it out and claim it, but hopefully you have been able to find that peace in the midst of chaos and insanity that Mary and Joseph found.