Here is my homily from last night’s 11:00 service. It was a beautiful candlelit service! I said the “Amen” to my benediction at midnight, went to open the front doors to the church and it was snowing! Purely magical.
Blessings to all of you on this Christmas Day.
Through Two Year Old Angel Eyes
No one really likes to look at baby pictures of themselves, do they?
My parents have an entire wall of bookshelves in their basement full of photo albums from the past 30 years. There are baby pictures of my sister and me, documentation of beach vacations, birthday parties, school plays, band concerts and basketball games and hard proof evidence of some of the more unfortunate fashion choices that I have made throughout the years.
I prefer to keep the door to the basement shut when I visit them.
There is something about reliving your own past that is just slightly horrifying at times.
Yet there is one photograph, one moment in my life that I do not even remember, that I absolutely treasure. It is a picture of me on Christmas Eve when I was just about two years old. My mom was serving at the Monroe Congregational Church in Monroe, CT.
The children were taking part in the family worship service and I was an angel.
(My parents would probably like me to specify that I was simply dressed like an angel, but – whatever.)
During the singing of Silent Night all of the angels stood up at the altar holding candles and singing. I, on the other hand, was wandering off to the side, in my angel costume with a bottle hanging out of my mouth.
There is something so innocent and precious about that picture. In my two-year-old mind, Christmas was purely magic. Christmas meant decorations, ornaments, candles and twinkly lights. It meant nonstop music and presents. It meant cookies from my grandparents and lots of extra time with my extended family. It meant a beautiful white angel costume with a gold and sparkly halo. It meant Santa Clause and reindeer and lots of unexpected surprises. It meant pure awe and wonderment.
Christmas did not mean a hectic season full of shopping and cleaning. It did not mean constantly having to be a defensive driver amidst the holiday traffic and parking lots. It did not mean worrying about having to fairly split time between family members and friends. It did not mean feeling the stress of having a perfectly decorated house and yard. It did not mean long and never-ending to-do lists. It did not mean arguments about money, family or schedules. It did not mean stress and tears.
At the age of two, I did not know about the violence, hatred and pain that existed in the world. I did not know that bad things happened and that people were mourning and sad throughout the holiday season. I did not know about wars, school shootings, illnesses and struggling economies. I did not yet understand life in a real and harsh way.
Through my two-year-old “angel” eyes, Christmas –and life in general – was purely magic.
There is something so beautiful about the Christmas story, about the way that Jesus, our Emmanuel and Savior, came into this world. He did not come into the world knowing of the violence, pain and suffering that people were experiencing. He did not come with an agenda, to the sounds of banging drums and clanging symbols, through smoke and pyrotechnics and wearing a royal robe with a loud booming voice proclaiming power and sovereignty. He did not rise to power after a long, arduous, negative and expensive campaign season.
No – our Emmanuel and Savior came into the world as an innocent and precious child. He came into this world as a baby, just experiencing light, shapes and sounds for the first time. He came into this world only just discovering that he can grasp things with his fingers. He came into this world relying on his parents for survival. He came into this world knowing instinctively to cry when something was wrong.
Do you ever wish that you could be that innocent and precious again, even if it was just for one moment?
It has not been an easy Christmas season – or even year – for many people in this community, in this country and in this world. The media has begun their “yearly recaps” and it just seems like only bad news graced the front pages of our newspapers and online media this year. We have experienced wars, tragedies and natural disasters. Lives had ended too soon and many go daily without basic necessities.
But good things have happened, too – I promise you this. The media does not often report on goodness and mercy, but thank God I have a job where I have the opportunity to see it first hand every single day of my life. This year I have seen lives saved by devoted doctors, nurses and first responders. I have seen the faces of children living in transitional housing light up at the sight of Santa Claus carrying what seemed like an endless supply of presents. I have seen hearts touched through the gift of a prayer shawl. I have seen neighbors and friends rally together when someone they know needed a ride, visit or meal. I have seen unconditional prayers offered, both privately and in worship. I have seen laughter through tears and tears through laughter. I have seen weddings, baptisms and healing. I have been part of some of the most meaningful worship services and moments of spiritual wholeness. I have seen grace – unexpected – time and time again.
We cannot ignore the world that is turning around us, but I do believe that we can choose how to respond to it. Christmas can – and should – be a wonderful reminder of the innocence in the world, of the goodness in people and the love that surrounds us. It can be an opportunity for us all to put on an angel costume and see the world as Jesus did coming into it. It can be a chance for us to re-set our systems (so to speak), slow down and vow to go into the new year with a renewed sense of hope and love.
Tonight I pray that each and every one of you will tap into your inner “angel with a bottle hanging out of your mouth” this Christmas season. See this season for what it should be – a magical celebration with decorations, candles, twinkly lights, nonstop music, cookies, extra time with friends and family, unexpected surprises and pure awe and wonderment. When you hear the Christmas story tonight and sing the familiar carols that you have sung time and time again throughout your life, imagine as though you are hearing and singing those words for the first time – not knowing yet what grace God has in store for us.
Peace and Blessings to you and your families. Merry Christmas!