Merry Christmas, Campers
Bedtime Theology with the 3 yo...
(Randomly during the day)
Me: (Singing some Wham!) "Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, the very next day, you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears, I'll give it someone special...."
3 yo: Someone special like Jesus?
One of the best Christmas sermons I've heard came from a seminary classmate named Jeff. It was given during preaching class, and Jeff showed up in a t-shirt, hiking shorts and a backpack. "Merry Christmas, campers!" he said, as he started the sermon based on John 1:14, God became flesh and dwelt among us. The Greek word for dwelt can also mean to put up a tent. God gets close and goes camping with us. That's the Christmas story. It was such a good sermon that I borrowed it years later, and literally put up a tent in the sanctuary while I preached on Christmas Eve.
This is what makes Christmas special, what makes Jesus special, although I'm not sure that's what Wham! or my 3-year-old had in mind. Human expectations for what make a divine being special (power, wisdom, might) are put aside for a time when part of God's own self comes close, so close, entering the world through birth, which is messy and bloody and painful no matter how you do it. God was weak, vulnerable and helpless. God came close, to be with us and remain with us. That's what makes Christmas special, the miracle of incarnation, on which every other miracle hinges.
On this night, my house is quiet now and everyone else is asleep. We skied and ate takeout and attended church by Zoom, lighting our candles for Silent Night on the sofa, wearing sweatpants and Christmas shirts. Tomorrow morning will bring the chaos of children and presents, rich food and FaceTime calls. But right now, it's quiet, an in-between space where I can remember what's special about this Savior, even and maybe especially in a year when everything was unprecedented and out of sorts. God comes close, and we need that assurance right now.
This is the poem/prayer that comes to me now, written by members of the Iona Community, a faith community who live off the coast of Scotland. It's from their gorgeous book of litanies, meditations prayers, Cloth for the Cradle, (Wild Goose Worship Group, 1997), available here or here or you can borrow my copy to read.
When the World Was Dark
When the World Was Dark
and the city was quiet,
You crept in beside us.
And no one know.
Only the few
who dared to believe
that God might do something different.
Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?
The poem continues (you can do a web search or buy the book) with the hope that in our darkness, our guilt or our longings, the Christ child can come close. He is coming. He is someone special, for all of us.
Note: The conversation occurred in December 2016.