Merry Christmas! It feels good to say it. So, let’s say it again. Merry Christmas!

On this day, in this year, at this time, I am glad to be able to call myself a Christian; it gives me joy. I’m not the best at being a Christian, maybe it’s all just aspirational. (Thank God that that is not the test for ordination.) Still, I get to call myself a Christian, and not only is that helpful to me, but it makes me really glad and hopeful. My hope and prayer is that it also brings you joy, a true gift.

There will be some who do not see the joy and merriness in this night and day in this year 2020–as if because we cannot worship or gather together that somehow this is not Christmas. There is an implicit scoff, “what about it is merry?” When you can’t be with friends and family, confinement seems a little less than merry and bright.

Let’s talk a few minutes about what are the essentials of Christmas Eve and day—in other words, what changes because of COVID-19 and what doesn’t?

There are several different ways we could look at this, I think. There are family and Church traditions and there is the Gospel narrative. Someone else mentioned to me that Christmas has its own food, fellowship and family gatherings. Those cover the family and Church traditions, but in some ways, it leaves out the heavy lifting of the Gospel itself.

The family traditions—maybe some of your family traditions have changed over the years. My hope is that you have figured out how to make this Christmas day special. My father was a psychiatrist at the state hospital in my teens, and so Christmas celebration suddenly moved
around depending on when he had call. Maybe this year you will be gathering over Zoom or Facetime with your family, or maybe you have planned a special hike for tomorrow, or will walk the labyrinth, or plan to sit around and find Christmas carols to play. (Find a cathedral service tomorrow morning and drop in on them.)

Church traditions— there is just not a way to make this feel like the Church traditions which you all know and love. There was a joke going around about how secular Christmas has become over the years— that we needed to put the Christ back in Christmas. But this year, we will be missing the mass in Christmas instead. Christmas isn’t going to feel like Christmas. There is no Mass. Still as I said before, the Christ child comes every Christmas, and honestly Christmas has been celebrated through much more harrowing times before, through wars and famines. We are sitting now pretty well off in our homes, watching this service on the internet. Some families have had it rough, really rough and I don’t want to make light of that, but Christianity is no stranger to having it rough. We are probably missing our families… and other traditions, but the Christ child still comes every Christmas. And so, let us turn to Christ, and to Mary and Joseph, and angels and shepherds and our readings and what we are actually celebrating.

And despite things perhaps not feeling like Christmas, I still think the narrative has many things for us, and perhaps maybe more so this year. The heart of the Gospel does not change with the virus. The Gospel story has Mary, heavy with child. Although we know how this story goes, and although Mary, as we are told is assured by no less than an angel, still hers is a future fraught with difficulties to navigate. She said “yes” to God to have a baby out of wedlock with all the shame that brought on her. She has this child who is very special. She did not ask for this. Not knowing what this means for her as she lived into it is perhaps a little familiar to not knowing how this pandemic will end. We may feel adrift and like we have lost control in this year; but, did we ever have control ever?! Before Mary answered God, did she have control?! I think that we have a lot in common with Mary. And then there is Joseph. Joseph has accepted a dream as a roadmap, as he also follows God, and things look weird, he is off on a journey he did not instigate. We also have a lot in common with Joseph. We may not know whether or not we are following God. I hazard to guess that even when we are pretty sure we are doing our best to follow God, (plus/ minus pandemic), we can feel like we are out of our league. Truth be told, we are out of league. We don’t have control and we are out of our league. We are living and following God so that we can be out of our league. To follow God is to be out of our league. But Christ came because we are out of our league, and God knows it, and bears the burden for us, and raises us up.

And yet the Christ child comes and make the ordinary holy. We can do ordinary. And God makes the ordinary holy.

The ordinary family becomes the holy family. Ordinary us, we too are made holy, as Christ has come to dwell with us.

The shepherds are taught to look for something beyond themselves. We too are taught to look for something beyond ourselves. What we look for is this for:

….the heavens [to] rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the LORD when he comes, *…

We and all creation shout for joy because the Lord Jesus comes. This joy is the joy of the Christ child, the joy of the Incarnation, of Christ who has come to dwell among us, of God amidst the ordinary, saving us right here where we live. This joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness can be random, the word comes from “happenstance.” Joy on the other hand is different. As Brother David Steindl-Rast has stated, this joy is “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” And for all that has gone on this year, despite the year and all the virus restrictions, I am glad and full of joy to be Christian, grateful to God for taking on my own finite condition, my own ordinariness, and making it holy. I hope the same joy for you, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.