We live in two worlds – the down-to-earth, day-to-day world, with events reported in the NY Times, that says, ‘all the news that’s fit to print.’ And now it’s website says, ‘all the news that’s fit to click.’
Much of the world-wide news hardly fits that prescription, but print and click we must. There’s nothing new about that, of course. A few thousand years ago one reporter, the prophet Isaiah, said it this way:
“The foundations of the earth do shake…earth shakes to pieces, earth reels like a drunken man, earth rocks like a hammock; under the weight of its transgression earth falls down to rise no more! “ ISAIAH 24:18
Then there’s the other world we live in – the world characterized by compassion and hope, wonder and awe. That world is expressed in another passage attributed to the same prophet, Isaiah, and used by George Frideric Handel: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.”
We are here tonight, in part at least, to find that comfort, to find the spark of that wonder and awe, compassion and hope, which tonight I choose to call ‘the Divine Spirit,’ which I believe resides within us.
Yes, the light of that Spirit gets hidden in the pitch-black shadow of despair. Who would deny that shadow? Who would deny that despair?
When the foundations of the day-to-day world have been shaken and we are broken hearted with a grief that threatens to overwhelm us, we turn in humility to that spark within us and we endure.
We need a place like this that we can turn to so that we can heal the wounds inflicted by the so-called down-to-earth world with news unfit to print, unfit to click.
That’s precisely the promise of Christmas.
Christmas offers a respite, an invitation to find rest in the other world.
Christmas is the quintessential story of the soul, with all of its symbols: a beautiful baby in a manger who reminds us of the sacredness of every child and points like a star in the East to our potential for love and compassion.
Christmas is about memories – especially our memories of childhood, before innocence was lost.
Christmas is about an evergreen tree — spruce, fir or pine, bringing the world of nature into the house the way we invite Nature into our hearts where we are reminded that we, too, are part of Nature, or Nature’s God.
Christmas is about gifts and gift-giving. It’s about music that is sung together or listened to…together.
Christmas requires us to suspend the disbelief of the rational mind and enter the place where the spirit of this Holy Night resides so that we can embrace its possibilities.
The birth narrative of the Christ child humanizes the concept of Messiah – so we must humble ourselves as one for whom there’s no room in the inn and go into the stable, the barn where a feeding trough serves as resting place for the Holy One.
A new star appeared in the heavens and it came to ‘rest over the place where Jesus lay in the manger’ – a poetic image composed when stars were the GPS for night-time travelers and people lived difficult lives with hope for a Messiah to arrive – and the Messiah arrived!
If we listen to the poetry of the season with a spiritual ear we will hear the angels singing to give comfort to the shepherds, saying, “Fear not for I bring you good news of a great joy, for unto you a savior is born, you will find him lying in a manger…”
That is to say, if you look carefully, spiritually, you will find him in the bottom of your heart…you will discover him in the depth of your compassion…you will feel him in the pain of your grief, and this new-born savior will comfort you.
I invite you to listen with your spiritual ear to E. E. Cummings poem that expresses it tenderly:
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing