St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
We all have them. We might not see them as Traditions, but we do things in the same way for comfort, for ease, for our brains to go on automatic pilot at times. We also carve out space in our days or seasons to do things with intention. Christmas is filled with Traditions, and that means Christmas is filled with Intention.
Last night we got in late and I just caught one of my traditions, the Midnight Mass from the Vatican was just finishing up.
Some of our family’s traditions are extra special. Stephanie and I were married on the 19th, so on our honeymoon we began to read the three Gospel accounts of Christmas from Luke, then Matthew, the John. And then we read the Gospel according to Dr. Seuss. The Grinch is Gospel, as there is a conversion when his heart “grew three sizes that day.”
We got to read those together last night in the Rectory. Another Tradition Ritual we missed, the eating of Chinese Food which comes from my birth family who always went to the Chinese restaurant after the Christmas Eve service. There was no open Chinese nearby. I will have to find one for next year.
Traditions warm our hearts. Traditions make us comfy inside.
Another one of my traditions is to usually cry, whether I want to or not, when I hear, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.” The song comes from a poem by Longfellow. A simple song, a throwaway song almost until you hear the words with Longfellow’s thoughts in your mind. Two years after his wife died in a tragic accident, which also left him permanently scarred, Longfellow’s son enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War. Receiving a grave wound, Charley, Longfellow’s son was in hospital in Washington, D.C. Longfellow joined him there to help in his recovery. On Christmas Day, in the midst of personal tragedy and in a beloved country ripping itself apart, he penned these words.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said;
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;And that poem became a song when we are tired and beaten by a world that ignores the message of Hope and Love we share at Christmas. One cannot be cynical and call oneself a disciple of Christ. It is as hypocritical as the bigot, the sexist, the blatant sinner. Cynicism is a sin of the heart. And this song reminds us of that.
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
This year, I look to the Christ Child in hope, and in trust. Our dear friend the Reverend Robert Dilday passed away on Saturday night, just one week after he was ordained to the priesthood. A priest for a week. It is heartbreaking. It was so much work to enable him to his work for so little time. He was a friend when we were both Baptists, and then an intern here, preaching from that very pulpit. As senseless as this seems, I cannot look at it in fear. I cannot look at in doubt. I have to look at it that even in its senselessness God will be glorified. God is glorified. Or as Longfellow put it, “God is not dead, nor does he sleep.” I have to live my life in that hope, because of Christmas day. I know Robert+ did.
Speaking of Hope, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special.
I heard an interesting piece of trivia, and I have shared it the last few years. I am shocked I had never noticed it before. You see, Linus stops the production of the Christmas show rehearsal to tell Charlie Brown the real meaning of Christmas, and he quotes Luke 2.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field , keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo , the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid . 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold , I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes , lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying , 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
“That’s the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Linus, being a cartoon character, is defined in simple ways. He is a believer, trusting or naive, depending on your point of view. He also is comforted by his security blanket and sucking his thumb. He holds tight to his protection from his insecurities, and most of us cannot think of Linus without it.
But if you go back to watch the video, and I did to make sure a couple of times, while he is quoting Luke, a most amazing thing happens. As soon as he says “Fear not!” his hand disappears from the screen and it returns without the blanket. The boy who is so timid, so fearful, goes center stage and let’s go of his fears, or at least his comfort from his fears. His “security” dropped at his feet. You see, the one who can stand with Linus, the one who can stand beside Longfellow in his pain and grief, the one who can stand beside me in my weakness and insecurities and you in yours has come into the world. “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
Maybe that is the greatest Christmas Tradition of them all, and it started with Mary, then Joseph, then the Shepherds all the way down to us. Our friend Robert preached it [pointing] from that very pulpit, he believed it, and he lived it to the very end. The words of the angels come to us today, “Fear Not.” And that my friends, is a Tradition to keep. “Fear Not!” Amen