SJF • Christmas Eve • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.+
And so we come once again to this holy night, as the old song says, the night when the Savior was born. We hear the story as the historian Luke tells it, fixing the date by the means people used in those days before we had B.C. and A.D., by referring to the politicians in office at the time, emperor and governor. Luke fixes the place by naming the towns and the regions: from Nazareth in Galilee on down to Bethlehem of Judea. And he pins down the people on the basis of their heritage — descended from the house and family of David. Nowadays we call them Davidsons, of which this parish had its share in its early days, and for whom Davidson Avenue just a block to the east was named. History can teach you some unusual lessons!
So here we gather, in the last months of the presidency of George II, during the governorship of David son of Patter, in the church of Saint James on the road named for Leonard Jerome just a block away from Davidson Avenue. We, like the shepherds of old, are gathered to welcome a child; a promised child, who had been spoken of hundreds of years before he was born, and has been spoken of every Christmas since. This is the child of whom Isaiah spoke, the child who has been born for us, the son given to us; upon whose shoulders rests the authority of God, and to whom was given that powerful, wonderful, mighty, everlasting and royal name.
But let us not forget that he was still a child — a newborn child; born in the cold season, in an uncomfortable place; wrapped to keep him as warm as possible, but placed in a feeding trough instead of a cradle, because there was no room for them in the inn. A child has been born to us; but where do we put him?
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I spoke this past Sunday about how we ought to welcome Christ properly. As the hymn says, we are to “fling wide the portals of our hearts” to welcome Jesus in, to welcome him into our hearts. And yet how often is he left out in the cold in the feeding trough? We might hope to say, we would never do that! But remember how he said, as you have done to the least of these you have done it unto me?
I could tell you that earlier today in the slums out by the city dump in São Paulo Brazil, a little boy was picking over the few items he rescued from that stinking, dangerous and poisonous garbage pile, the few torn and tattered things which he can trade for a few cents. I could tell you that earlier today somewhere in Soweto there was a young girl, 12 years old, moaning quietly and weeping on her cot as she tried to fall asleep and forget the pain and hurt and abuse she suffered when her uncle raped her, because he believed the fable that if he slept with a virgin it would cure him of his AIDS. I could tell you countless such stories; stories that show what this world too often does to children.
And it wasn’t different back then — not only was this special child Jesus born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough, but in short order the king sent shock troops to the town to kill him; and just to be sure they got him, they massacred all the boy-children in the village. There is nothing new about genocide. There is nothing new about horror and abuse and poverty.
It has been said that you can judge the wholesomeness of a society on the basis of how it treats its children. How would our world be judged against the world into which Christ was born? For believe you me, it will be judged, and by that same Christ! He will have all the experience he needs to judge how well we have done in welcoming him, compared with how well he was welcomed in the days of Augustus and Quirinius in the city of David called Bethlehem. Beware the judgment of this child; beware the wrath of the Lamb.
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But my! What a heavy message for Christmas! And it would be if I left us there; but there is good news in all of this, even if we have to hear some unpleasant truths to get there. The good news is that the child born in the stable and laid in the manger is still with us. And he is mighty, he is wonderful, he is everlasting, and he is the Prince of peace. He is our Savior — and if we have failed to open the portals of our hearts to invite him in, he will not give up on us yet. Christ the Child will stand outside and knock, and call us to come out to him. Remember that he not only said “as you have done to the least of these you have done to me” — he also said, “anyone who does not come to the kingdom of heaven as a child cannot enter it” and “You must be born again.” He comes to us as a child, and calls us forth as children — if we cannot open our adult hearts to let him in, he will help us to open our hearts so that we can be born again, so that we can come out to be with him as children once again, out into a world where we can join with all of our brothers and sisters.
Jesus the Christ Child stands at the doors of our hearts and calls out in the bright voice of the child, “Can Toby come out to play? Can Jimmy come out to play? Can Winnie come out to play? Can Tony come out to play? He is calling us all, calling us all forth, this wonderful, mighty child! He is calling us forth to be born again, to be rejuvenated and restored to the innocence of children, to play with him, tonight, and every night and day.
But, be warned, this is no ordinary child’s play — it is the serious and earnest play that children play when they are most intent. They play with strict rules, children do: and among the most important is that this game can not begin until all of God’s children are gathered together. And the children will come streaming from the city dumps of São Paulo and Mexico City; they will come in procession from the South Bronx and Newark and Appalachia and Darfur; they will come running as fast as their little feet can carry them from the smokey toil of factories and the backbreaking work of the pit-mines. And only when all are gathered together — all of God’s children, from every family under heaven and on the earth; from every place and from every time — only then will the game begin. Then, and only then, will the song the angels sang come true in earnest — true peace on earth, to all united in Godly wills.
So harken, my sisters and brothers, to the voice of the Christ Child when he knocks at the door of your heart. Be born again, become a child, accept his invitation. Turn not the Child away, but join him in his gracious play.+