Traditionally, whether it’s Father Steve or me, the preacher doesn’t typically follow the children’s dramatic retelling of the Christmas story, but like almost every other aspect of this year, things are not quite as usual. I’m so grateful that I got to see our virtual Christmas pageant early so that I could know what I would be following tonight. One of the things that I love about the work that the kids, the parents, and the staff put into that video is the ways in which it almost seemed like normal. The costumes are the same white puffy sheep and gold cardboard angel’s wings, the songs in between the passages of scripture resonate in a similar way, and seeing our youngest members portraying one of the most important stories that we have brings great joy as always. But we know that it’s different. You aren’t packed into pews with your usual neighbors on your left and Christmas Eve vistors on the right, we don’t get to see the sheep tottle joyfully down the aisle, and the usually ambient joy of this holy night might feel far off.
And though it might seem counter-intuitive, this is precisely what is compelling to me on this blessed night. We stand, though we are scattered throughout our city, collectively on the cusp of the greatest joy the world has ever known. This is compelling to me not just because there has to be a silver lining somewhere, or even because it is a cornerstone of my faith. Rather, this fine line that we walk tonight where things feel like normal, but also feel off, this is what I find so brilliantly fascinating. It is undeniable that our world is so very weary, but we know and we truly, deeply believe that the thrill of hope, the truth that God has come to be with us is something which brings great joy, even as it might feel far off.
And I have to wonder if Mary and Joseph might not have felt the very same way on this holy night; and it might be true that this is not how we want to celebrate Christmas, but it’s compelling because it just might be the closest we will ever get to that holy night in Bethlehem. And perhaps this is the greatest gift of Christmas 2020: the opportunity to truly believe in this beautiful, joyful miracle, even as we stand with Mary and Joseph, outside of our family and our traditions, and the way things are always supposed to be.
We celebrate the birth of Christ tonight not just because we are Christians or because it’s convient in our culture to do so, but we celebrate the birth of Christ because of the way in which joy broke through. Joy broke through, and we celebrate because in our weary, weary world, rejoicing can be so very hard to come by. But on that night, Mary gave birth to the Christ child, and joy broke through. And just like Mary and Joseph, we can choose joy in the face of things not being normal. We can choose to see how hope, joy, and peace came shinning through this world, not in a meek and mild way, but in the form of a screaming, fragile infant born in difficult circumstances. Joy breaks through. And we know, we truly know, that God can do the same in our world as well, precisely because this night is like no other night, and joy will always break through.