The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
December 24, 2016 – Christmas Eve
Every year, in early December, I haul out all the Christmas decorations that we keep in our storage area in the parsonage next door and set about decking the halls with bows of holly.
During the cold, dark nights of winter, somehow the house looks a little less dreary – a little less ordinary – with a Christmas tree in the living room,
a festive wreath on the front door, and a single white light burning in every window.
But that’s as far as my decorating usually goes.
Here in Amherst village, there’s an unwritten rule that the external Christmas displays should be simple and understated, in keeping with the historic character of the homes and the age in which they were built.
Which is why you’ll see most of the homes in the village sporting a single white light in every window.
Those of us who live in the village have been known to joke on occasion that one year we’re going to shake off the chains that restrain us and plant plastic reindeer and giant inflatable Santas on our front lawns,
and deck out our homes with multicolored neon lights that flash in time to the music of Mannheim Steamroller.
But in reality, I think most of us much prefer the understated white lights,
and are quite happy to leave the more elaborate displays to those who have no unwritten expectations holding them back.
It certainly makes decorating a lot easier and less time consuming.
And there is something magical, about driving through the village in the weeks before Christmas and seeing a single white light glowing in every window.
In our culture, where individuality is celebrated and we feel compelled to plant public displays of our identity and our allegiances on our car bumpers, on our Facebook pages, and on our front lawns – it’s comforting to see us come together with one subtle and simple expression of this season –
a single while light – a symbol of this season of hope, peace, joy, and love.
Often times it’s the more subtle, and simple, things that we encounter in life that have a greater impact and turn out to be much more meaningful than something that smacks us in the face with its grandiosity and complexity.
This may seem counterintuitive for those of us who live in a country that prides itself on going big or going home.
We supersize our meals, drive cars that are large enough to haul around half a soccer team, and build 10,000 sq ft homes with the expectation that every occupant should have their own bathroom and their own walk-in closet.
Simple and subtle is not our forte.
A few years ago, the British actor Stephen Fry did a TV series in which he traveled to every state in America, to explore the beauty and the bounty that our country has to offer.
There was one episode where Fry attended a college football game between the University of Alabama and their closest rival, Auburn University.
Fry stood on the sideline just prior to the start of the game with his mouth agape at the pomp and pageantry that surrounded him.
National television coverage, 200 member marching bands, pyrotechnic displays, military color guards, fighter jets zooming loudly overhead while an American flag the size of a the entire football field was unfurled below.
As Fry astutely noted, “This event had the scale, intensity, and hoopla of an English Football League National Cup Final when in reality it was just a local match between amateur students.”
As Fry discovered, subtle and simple, tends not to be the American way.
Which is why it may seem surprising that once a year we step away from all the hoopla and the multitude of things that occupy our time, and we huddle into churches like this one, and lean in to hear the Christmas Story.
This story of weary travelers, gruff innkeepers, simple shepherds, and a baby, born in a manger, who was said to be the savior of the world.
This is not to say that we don’t do Christmas over-the-top as well,
with two-month long advertising campaigns, maxed out credit cards,
and the aforementioned giant inflatable Santa displays…
But it’s the simpler, much more subtle story of this baby in a manger that captures our attention on the Eve of Christmas Day.
Why is that?
We might say it’s because the story captures our hope and our anticipation and our expectations of all the joyful rituals, memories, and experiences we associate with Christmas.
Gathering with our families and our friends, exchanging gifts, eating way too much food.
But I’m not that cynical to think that this story of the birth of Jesus is just the appetizer we partake in before we consume what we’re really looking forward to – The four course meal of joy, pleasure, gratification, and overindulgence that we experience on Christmas Day.
I think this simple little story is about so much more than that –
and it means so much more to us than perhaps we even realize.
It can be a scary world out there.
On this Christmas Eve, there’s no need for us to list off all the ways in which our world is broken and in need of healing.
There’s no need for us dwell on all the ways in which WE are broken and in need of healing.
We already know all of that.
But every year in late December, after immersing ourselves in all of the “stuff” that being human in an unpredictable and unforgiving world throws at us….we come here.
We come here
to peer into a manger.
To see the Christ Child be born.
To look at this baby - and pour out all our Christmas Wishes –
All our hopes, our dreams, our desires, our longings –
for a better world.
A better us.
A better tomorrow.
One where we treat one another with more compassion, and empathy, and grace.
One where we find happiness – and healing – and wholeness.
One where we love each other fiercely,
And forgive each other often.
One where we seek to understand one another
as much as we seek to be understood.
This may seem like an impossibility.
But as our faith continuously tells us, nothing is impossible with God.
Which is why we celebrate this story that is both simple and subtle.
This story about God letting go of everything that makes God infinite and all powerful and all knowing – and choosing to step into human skin -
To experience what it’s like to be finite – and powerless – and fearful
of a future that is unknown and unsettling.
When we peer into the manger and look at the baby called Jesus –
Jeshua – Emmanuel – God with Us…
We see a God who reached into our world to give us a glimpse of all that we are meant to be.
A glimpse of our potential.
A glimpse of our future.
A glimpse of all our hopes – and dreams – and longings
Bundled into one tiny package.
In the one gift that we all long to receive on Christmas Day.
The gift that makes our Christmas Wish come true.
What is it that you’re wishing for this Christmas?
More time with your kids?
The healing of a relationship?
To get through Christmas Dinner with your extended family without anyone bringing up politics?
Perhaps you’re wishing for fewer personals upsets and fewer unexpected challenges in the coming year.
Or perhaps you’re optimistic and hopeful enough to wish for world peace…
Or at the very least, that we’d all spend less time talking at one another and more time listening.
Regardless of what it is we’re wishing for….chances are it has little to do with the presents that we all have wrapped underneath our trees….
…and more to do with this presence we find in this simple manger.
This presence of God.
This presence that tells each and every one of us what we long to hear -
You are loved –
You are wonderfully and beautifully made –
As is everyone around you.
So be good to yourself.
Be good to one another.
For your Christmas Wish – on this day - has come true.
Thanks be to God.