Christmas Eve Reflection

Christmas Eve Reflection | Sunday, December 24, 2023

Amanda Bennett | Co-Pastor

Recently I went to Lab Corp for bloodwork – not one of my favorite to-dos. I had been fasting and by 8:45 a.m. was in desperate need of my morning coffee. Called back to the lab room, I sat in a sterile chair and a stoic phlebotomist, a thirty-something-year-old with a full beard, asked me to recite my date of birth, last name spelling, you know the routine. With a look of judgement, he examined my veins, pressing the flesh on my forearm, then lifted his eyebrow and asked, “Have you had ANY water today?” 

I convincingly replied that I had. However, he was not convinced. 

The pin prick in my vein was slightly uncomfortable, but then he started to move the needle around. That’s when he decided to distract me with conversation. The topic of Christmas came up and I innocently asked him if he was “ready” for Christmas. His face, while already serious, took on an appearance of grief. 

“No,” he replied flatly, “I’m not ready. You know, it doesn’t even feel like Christmas this year. There is too much going on in the world – so much sadness. I-I don’t even want to celebrate Christmas this year.” 

I nodded in acknowledgement of his heavy heart and mumbled some sort of validating response to his pain – the best I could do mid-blood draw. It was a quick encounter, but his statements have consumed me during this season of Advent. 

“Too much sadness. I don’t even want to celebrate this year…” 

I’ve wondered what he might have been referring to – likely the many wars of the world – in Gaza, the Ukraine. Maybe he was referring to the state of divisiveness in our own country. Maybe he was referring to a war waging within himself. Had he lost a loved one? Was he struggling with a difficult relationship? A health concern? Whatever it was – I could sense it was heavy. 

I would venture to guess that he isn’t the only one who doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas this year. Some may feel like pieces of their own lives are falling apart, a crumbled hot mess – no reason to celebrate. 

In the holy city of Bethlehem, Christmas has been canceled. Church leaders came together and unanimously decided to cancel public celebrations. A recent NPR article writes this about its cancellation: “There’s no Christmas tree or sparkling lights in Manger Square or along the cobble-stone streets that should be bustling with foreign tourists this time of year. There will be no Christmas parade with musicians weaving through the old city’s labyrinth walkways, no Santas on street corners doling out joy to children. Instead, the main square is a simple parking lot, without a hint of holiday decoration to be seen.” 

Despite the stop to Christmas festivities, a local Evangelical Lutheran Church still created a nativity scene – one in which they sought to recognize the thousands of children in Gaza whose lives have been lost. They gathered debris from a collapsed home. And there in the center of its fragments, they laid the Christ child to rest – Jesus amid the rubble. 

Reverend Munther Isaac, the spiritual leader of this congregation, said this about their nativity – “I always say we need to de-romanticize Christmas. In reality, it’s a story of a baby who was born in the most difficult circumstances and the Roman Empire under occupation, who survived the massacre of children himself, when he was born.”

And he isn’t wrong. I mean we heard the story in both our Luke and Matthew texts this evening. Though Matthew’s narrative, in part, actually happens after the birth of Jesus, we often lump the magi with the shepherds – it makes for a more artistic nativity scene. 

To me, Luke’s version of events reads more sanitized than Matthew’s account. After all, Matthew is the one who tells us that Joseph wants to leave Mary quietly. Matthew’s narrative depicts an anxious King Herod shrouded in hostility. Rumors abound about this infant king who was born to poor peasants – rumors that threaten Herod’s thirst for power and control. Herod is so anxious in fact, he sends the magi to find the location of this child, this perceived threat. Herod wants the magi to report back, give him the details so he can get rid of this intimidating infant. 

But the Magi choose not to comply. They go back a different route; they know the way in which they came is no longer safe and they have no desire to assist a violent ruler. Full of outrage, Herod orders the elimination of all little boys. The holy family is in danger and displaced – Jesus an immigrant seeking asylum. 

Matthew’s account is “a de-romanticized story” indeed. 

So sure, we can toss the grandiose festivities of Christmas – the rampant consumerism, the outrageous expectations, the parades, and fanfare. Because truly celebrating Christmas isn’t about all the pomp and circumstance anyway. 

I can see where my phlebotomist was coming from with his desire to skip Christmas, but I think he sort of missed the point. Because in its stripped-down form Christmas is simply Hope born out of despair. It is preciously in moments of desperation that we need Hope the very most. 

And friends, we can’t stop the birth of Christ, the birth of Hope in the world. It is here in our midst, even now. 

Among fragments of our pain, Hope is born when the brokenhearted are embraced, when a stranger receives a warm bed, when those who hunger are filled. 

Hope is born when, like the Magi, we refuse to comply and challenge the directives of violent powers at be. 

Among the rubble left by raging wars, the light of Hope is born when hospital staff continue to provide care while under siege. 

Hope is born when people of all walks of life come together to demand peace. 

In the midst of a violent and repressive regime, relational tension, and displacement — Christ is born. God made flesh, born into a broken world, a still small light, a flicker of hope that lives within us and among us. May we seek this light, may we hold this light, may we BE this light. Amen.