Monday, December 24, 2018
The First Noel
The other night, I am out taking a walk around our neighborhood. Strolling along. Enjoying the Christmas lights people have put up. Hula Santa is very popular ~ making at least three appearances regardless of which way I go. There is one neighbor who has a twelve foot light up Santa...a twelve foot light up Snowman (always ironic in Florida)...then a two foot manger scene that has been faded by the sun over the years tucked in behind the other two. I might be the only one who sees that juxaposition as funny. We also have at least three neighbors who are trying out for the Great Christmas Light Fight television show. Music blaring, lights twinkling so fast and furious, every inch of every tree, lawn, and front of the house is dripping and drenched with something that sparkles and shines. I am not sure what their electric bill is in January...but good Lord.
But my point wasn't to take you on a trip around the block, but rather the above photo. After being soaked and saturated in all the artificial ~ manufactured ~ human-made lights that decorate the darkness, I turn the corner and see what I tried to capture for you. That object against the black night sky is, of course, the moon. I love several things around this photo.
1. I love that the street lamp is trying to compete with the brilliant and bold moon. There are moments our lives resemble that truth. We try to be special or spectacular. Tonight is Christmas Eve...I will preach a sermon to many people I don't really know who come for a variety of complex and complicated reasons. Some come out of obligation, some come out of ritual, some come because a family member said they had to or all the Christmas presents were going back to the store. At one point in my ministry I had thought, "Maybe...just maybe...if I say something meaningful, witty, insightful, inspiration.... maybe these visitors will come back." Imagine the church being as full on Sunday after Christmas as it is tonight. Insert dreamy eye vision here. It was a bit of beautiful foolishness on my part. What that sort of thinking leads us to in the church is thinking that it is all up to me or us. We have to do all the work. Thanks for the inspiration, God, but I'll take it from here. Yet I am basically like the street light tonight. I will offer what I can, but there is something more beautiful and powerful and profound happening in our world. God showing up. God's light of love illuminate the world. I hope I might point toward that, but in the end people might miss the moon because of all the glitz and glamour that we swim in as a society today.
2. I love that the brilliance of the moon needs the beauty of the night. Consider the moon when you wake up in the morning and it is still there - hovering and hanging around with the dawn. Often we miss it...or we see it and think, "Neat." But the moon in the photo above is beyond words ~ description ~ definition. This isn't night verses light battling it out. This is light decorating the darkness and vice versa too. They are not in tension. They are in a dance.
3. I love that in this breath-taking, word-shunning, silent entering photo is the truth of tonight. God's love lighting our world still two thousand years later. "The first noel," the carol goes, "The angels to say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay." It is a bit of a tongue-twister, logic- defying sentence. The first noel, God came not to the powerful and privileged, but the good news came to the least, lonely, and left out in society - shepherd. The beauty came not in twenty-four foot dancing hula Santas...but in a faded manger scene hardly seen behind all that distracts us today. The beauty came in a moon that most people missed because we were too busily searching for the perfect last minute gift, elbowing the crowds who have the gull to wait until the last moment (never mind we have done the same thing), and wondering why we are doing this.
Why we do this...this sacred season, of course, is because the mystery and marvel of this night will never be fully known. We do this...this sacred season every year because every year we need to be reminded and reassured that hope, peace, love, and joy are still as true today as the moon over our heads. We do this...this sacred season because if we didn't then the bad news cycles would have the only word.
So, come, come and behold him. Come all ye faithful. Come sing with the choir of angels. Be drenched in candle light. Come be wrapped in more than a trace of grace that has no end.
I pray wherever you are...whoever you are...in some way you might sense the holy mystery of this night. For unto you, yes you, in the city of David is born a savior who is Christ the Lord.