December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Vera grew up on a farm in western Iowa in the 1920’s and 30’s. She was one of five children. There were few luxuries and a lot of hard work. Her mother Ida Linnea worked hard, as farm women did (and still do). Vera remembered that her mother was “constantly working.”
When Vera was 9, she got a part in the Christmas program, to be performed on Christmas Eve. Ida Linnea started sewing Vera a special dress for her to wear to the program. Vera took to memorizing and practicing her piece. But a few days before Christmas Eve, Vera got sick.
It was decided that Vera and her mother needed to stay home from church.
So, on Christmas Eve, Vera watched her father and her siblings leave for church. Vera was devastated. But Ida Linnea said, “We will celebrate Christmas Eve together. You put on your dress. Then Ida Linnea combed Vera’s hair and made her pretty. They went to the parlor near the Christmas tree, and lit a few candles. Ida Linnea brought a wooden dining room chair for Vera to stand on. And, then Ida Linnea, who never stopped working, stopped. And she sat down and gave the gift that, in the end, is what matters most: her undivided attention.
Vera recited her part in the Christmas program, but for the rest of her life, she would tell the story of her mother, that moment of undivided attention enough to summarize an entire history–Love’s pure light, cascading through the decades. At Vera’s funeral last month, this was the story that was told, love fully and beautifully present passed to another generation, now told by Vera’s daughter, Ruth.
This is the heart of Christmas. When all of heaven and earth share a moment of undivided attention. All of our sickness; our devastation at how life has turned out; our loss; the injustice in our world; this bitterly divided nation—are revealed as only part of the story. A life defined by labels or by failures or by the judgments around skin color or status or gender. Fake News! Half the story! Our deepest truth, our guiding star, our manger, our food is the undivided attention of a loving God.
The shepherds were terrified at that moment, when suddenly the whole glory of the Lord shone around them. Totally within the undivided attention of God. As probably any of us would be if God pulled up a chair, sat down across from us, and said, “All right. Let me hear what you’ve been memorizing. Let me hear what you’ve been turning over and over again in your head.”
It’s no surprise that the angel has to say, “Do not be afraid. I have good news of great joy for all the people.”
- God sees it all…and loves us.
- God sees who we are and who we’ve been—who we can be…and loves us.
- God dwells with us. The earth and everything that comes from earth is dust of the stars, a touch of the Big Bang, an echo of the Great Birth, filled with God, matter and love bound together since the beginning of time. This Christ, who we see in the child in the manger is not different than us, but is the symbol, the archetype, the poetry of our deepest human life, undivided from divine love.
- Each of us has a part to play.We are all growing toward the light; growing into God. We simply rehearse it every year on this night. Each of us “holds the mystery of becoming more.”
This is the 200thanniversary of “Silent Night.” The song has quite literally re-written the stories we tell about ourselves. In 1914, in the depths of World War 1, British and German troops were so close to one another, hunkered down and freezing in their trenches, that they could hear each other cough. On Christmas Eve, they began to sing Christmas carols. One German soldier climbed up from the bunker, put his hands up, entered “no one’s land,” and began to sing “Stille Nacht.” Others joined him, and soon British and German soldiers began to sing together, to share treats and exchange pictures and buttons and caps. They played soccer, and they extended this “Christmas truce” until they could all bury the dead.
When just one risks waving the white flag, entering the undivided space, no one’s land becomes everyone’s land, peace becomes possible, justice takes shape, the face of the enemy, in a moment of undivided attention, becomes the face of God.
Some say that the Christmas truce only happened once. Superior offices disciplined the soldiers and divided them up among other trenches. But today, we step into the church to risk entering the space between heaven and earth, to put our bodies into the service of light.
Of course, we know full well that the darkness is significant. It can be devasting. We regularly return to our trenches and we silently fume at the other side. But in this holy place, we trust that these are not our full stories. From Bethlehem, we are hoisted to the chair, our faces washed in baptismal water, dressed in the garment of light, and God stops everything to attend to us, and to every living thing, finally to embrace us with everlasting life.
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.
I’m grateful for Ruth Marcott who gave me permission to share this story. She read it at her mother’s funeral at the end of November.
This beautiful phrase comes from a series of devotions on the O Antiphons, “Advent Names of God,” by Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ, www.GoodGroudPress.com.