Christmas – Mass at Midnight (Dignity/NoVa)
December 24, 2008
A good friend of mine told me about a recent public speaking training he participated in. The trainer told them that whenever you are talking to a group of people, no more than 90% of the audience is paying attention to you when you first open your mouth. As you might suspect, that percentage usually decreases as you continue talking … so, in putting together some thoughts to share for our reflection this evening, I realized even more acutely the need to be brief, and on point.
With that said, let me say that I have just 3 points I want to share with you this evening. As you know, during these four weeks of Advent, we have been focusing our reflections on the theme of “Christ our Hope.” And today we gather to celebrate the realization of that Hope in the Incarnation … this feast of “God with Us,” in this church named “God with Us – Immanuel.”
Point One: First and foremost, Christmas reminds us that the God we believe in is involved in our world. The God of Scriptures, of our Judaeo-Christian tradition – this God is not distant and removed, sitting back and watching his handiwork unfold. No, we believe that God throughout history has been and continues to be intimately involved with and present in our world.
Point Two: If God is involved in our world, then the Hope we have been reflecting on during Advent is well-founded. Theologians often speak of the “two comings of Christ.” We believe in the first and have hope in the second. As Christians we believe that what we celebrate tonight was that first “coming of Christ in time” some two millennia ago. We believe that God indeed took on the flesh and blood of humanity in the Person of Jesus, and became “one like us, in all things but sin.” And as believers we hope in the second “coming of Christ in glory” – that point in some near or distant future, known to no one, when the world as we know it will pass away. The Christian view of history – what we call “salvation history” – is marked by these two “comings” – these two bookends, as it were. Even though the first followers of Jesus in the early days of the Church thought that this Second Coming was “just around the corner,” we – like them – live in this “in-between” time. Because we have hope for and not knowledge of when this Second Coming of Christ will occur, living in these “in between times” presents its own challenges. In particular, there is the challenge of what “hope” really means. Yes, our faith in a God who took on human flesh, who suffered for us, who died for us, and who ultimately rose from the dead for us – this faith gives us Hope (with a capital H) for eternal life. But because we live in these “in between times” – a time when, guided by the Spirit, we live in “joyful Hope” – are we not also to have hopes about the here and now? Doesn’t a living faith challenge us to be hopeful about this world, these circumstances, our lives, this time? If Christ truly is our Hope, then shouldn’t that have some bearing not only about his “second coming again in glory” for which we Hope, but also impact the realizable hopes and dreams and aspirations of our daily lives?
And so it’s this question that brings me to my third and final point.
Point Three: Given the very real and concrete circumstances of the “here and now” – in the wider world, in the Church, in our communal lives, our family lives and in our own individual lives – what hopes do you and I have for today and for the future?
For the past couple of weeks I’ve actually been thinking about and writing down a few of the things that I hope for this Christmas season – and I invite each of you to pause for just a few moments – perhaps even close your eyes – and think about: What do I really hope for? As we gather in the darkness of this night – knowing that we, too, “have seen a great light” in the birth of Jesus – what hopes and dreams do I have for myself, my loved ones, and our world?
• I hope that my nephew, who has recently joined the military and is now in basic training even today, will be kept safe from all harm.
• I hope for a day when the person sitting in the Chair of Peter – perhaps a Pope Catherine the First or a Theresa the Great? – might take an active role in leading all Christians to that Unity among his followers for which Jesus prayed.
• I hope for a day when all of God’s children – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – will be fully welcomed in their families of origin and their families of faith.
• I hope that my parents – though still quite healthy and active even in their mid-70’s – will continue to be blessed with full and healthy lives until they draw their last breath.
• I hope for a day when Dignity is an official ministry within every Diocese and every Parish this country.
• I hope for a day when religion – especially the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – are less a force for division or even violence, and more a force for justice and lasting peace.
• I hope for a world in which the blessings of this earth are shared by all humanity, so that hunger, poverty and homelessness are only distant memories.
• I hope for a day when our collective treatment of this Earth which sustains us will be marked by appreciation of her gifts and caring stewardship for her future.
• And finally, I hope that each of us gathered here might come to see more clearly and know more fully the living presence of the Incarnate God in our world, in one another, and in ourselves.