You must all be ready for Christmas, right? I can tell by the way you’re all sitting there so calmly that you’re set. No more presents to buy, no more menus to plan, you’ve done everything you need to do, and you are good to go. You must feel so relaxed, so calm and peaceful.
Myself, I could use another month. I mean, I’ve got (most) of the presents I’ve needed to get, the house is decorated and mostly clean. My mother is handling the food. My list is checked off (as soon this service is done). And yet, I actually feel kind of stressed. I’m worried that the presents won’t bring as much happiness as I hope. I’m worried that the kids will get into an argument (either the little kids or the adult kids), and that our Christmas gathering won’t be as calm as I want it to be. When it comes right down to it, I’m worried that the love that we’re all supposed to feel for one another, for friends and family and for strangers and the world at large, the love that is supposed to saturate this holiday and seep through every moment and give us all a magical glow... I’m worried that this Christmas love, which comes so easily in church right now, and which is the whole point of Christmas, will become, once again, so much harder when the day is over. And so, really, I don’t feel quite ready Christmas. I haven’t done everything that needs doing. It’s too hard.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about? Maybe you’ve experienced that this work of Christmas love is hard? We like to think it’s easy, especially when there’s good food, and presents, and beautiful music, and candlelight. But tomorrow, and in the days to come, when there are too many people in the house, and too many dishes to get on the table, when we’re wondering why we spent so much money on presents, when the kids are arguing because they’re tired and have had too much chocolate, we will experience that love is hard.
Love is a hard thing to do at Christmas because it can’t be manufactured, or bought at the store, or ordered over Amazon. We like to think it’s easy––we sing all these Christmas carols about it, and sign our Christmas cards with “love,” we “love” all the cute holiday posts on social media. But real love––true, authentic, honest love––is not so easy. Loving a person, rather than a picture or a pithy saying, is harder. It requires compassion, and understanding, and vulnerability. It requires us to be honest about our own shortcomings and weaknesses so that we can accept the shortcomings and weaknesses of others. Love at Christmas means coming out from behind the trappings of the holiday and being who we are underneath it all and accepting others for who they are. Easy? No.
And so we’re in a bit of a conundrum. We know that love is the most important thing at Christmas. This is what we are here to celebrate, right? That out of love God came into the world as one of us? That God became love for the world? We’ve been told for the last month that we need to get ready for this love, to prepare for Christ to come. And yet love is the hardest thing to do. We aren’t really celebrating Christmas if we don’t have it. So what do we do?
Well, first of all, take a minute and breathe. A nice big breath, all the way in through your nose, and out. Lower your shoulders, and breathe once more. Rest.
You see, it’s already been done. What God did that first Christmas night was to do what we can’t always do: to become love for the world. This is why we are here tonight.
Becoming love means becoming flesh and living amongst us. Becoming love means taking on one of these frail, imperfect bodies, and becoming immersed in the challenges of being human. Becoming love means becoming all of those things that love requires - compassion, vulnerability, understanding. And so this is what God did by becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. God, who is love itself, became love in the flesh. At one of the darkest times in a people’s history, God became flesh out of compassion for those who were suffering from oppression. Rather than blaming the victims of the system for their weakness in allowing themselves to be dominated, rather than telling them that it was their fault, God became one of them. God could have taken flesh and been born as the Son of a Roman Emperor, so that all the wrongs could be righted from the top. God could have loved from on high, without becoming entangled in the lives of those all around. But instead, God came as just one more baby born under the tyranny of Emperor Augustus. And in doing so, God entangled the divine life with our own and became vulnerable. To being hated, to being overwhelmed, to being misunderstood.
Why? So that God could love us and with that love, transform us. So that God could take all of the hardest work of love on God’s self. So that God could love us the way we are supposed to love others. After all, we can’t truly love others unless we ourselves are truly loved. And that is what God, love in the flesh, has come to do. To love us when we are at our ugliest, our crankiest, our most impatient. God loves you when you are overwhelmed by too much to do, and when you are short with your kids or your parents. God loves you when the Christmas glow has faded, along with the warm and cozy feelings of this night. God loves you, accepts you, cherishes you, with the most perfect love there is, completely as you are underneath all of the trappings of Christmas.
So, breathe. The love that we are supposed to share at Christmas has already been shared by God with us. And while we celebrate what God has done on this one night a year, it turns out that God’s work of love is so complete that it extends past today, to tomorrow, and the day after that, and all the days to come. We can rest in this moment, and the next, and the one after that because God has come into the world, doing the hardest part of love for us. God has come into the world to love us two thousand years ago and now and forever. God has come into the world loving us and those around us even when we are at our most unloveable. God has done the hardest work––this is the gift of Christmas.
And so tomorrow, or even later tonight, when you’re gathered with those you’re supposed to love, and trying to love, and maybe not quite 100% managing to love, and feeling overwhelmed and impatient with yourself, remind yourself that it’s okay. The love of God has come into the world, for you and for those you love. The love we share with one another is, really, secondary to that. The presents, the food, the get-togethers are bonuses. We don’t need to get everything perfect, not even love. What we manage will be enough because God’s love is more than enough. Rest. Breathe. Everything is done. Love has come to live among us. Glory to God in the highest heaven. Amen.