Tonight means different things for different people. For children it’s one of the most exciting nights of the year. For their parents it might mean something else. One unknown mother expressed her wishes at Christmas in a letter to Santa. She wrote,
I’ve been a good mother all year. I have fed, cleaned, and cuddled my children on demand, visited my doctor’s office more than my doctor has, sold sixty-two cases of candy bars to raise money to plant a shade tree on the school playground, and figured out how to attach nine patches onto my daughter’s girl scout sash with staples and a glue gun. As my children make out their Christmas list I am hoping you can even read mine since I had to write it with my son’s red crayon, on the back of a Walmart receipt in the laundry room between cycles. Here are my wishes for Christmas:
I’d like a pair of legs that don’t ache after a day of chasing my kids . . . and arms that don’t flap in the breeze but are strong enough to carry a screaming toddler. I’d also like a waist, since I lost mine somewhere in the seventh month of my last pregnancy. If you’re hauling big ticket items I’d like a car with fingerprint resistant windows and a radio that only plays big-people music; a television that doesn’t broadcast any programs containing talking animals; and a refrigerator with a secret compartment behind the crisper where I can hide to talk on the phone.
On the practical side, I could use a talking son doll that says, “Yes, Mommy” to boost my parental confidence, along with one potty-trained toddler, two kids who don’t fight, and three pairs of jeans that will zip all the way up without the use of a power tool. I could also use a recording of Tibetan monks chanting, “Don’t eat in the living room” and “Take your hands off your brother,” because my voice seems to be just out of my children’s hearing range and can only be heard by the dog.
Also, please don’t forget the Play-doh Travel Pack, the hottest stocking stuffer this year for mothers of preschoolers. It comes in three fluorescent colors and is guaranteed to crumble on any carpet, making the in-laws’ house seem just like mine. If it’s too late to find any of these products, I would gladly settle for enough time to brush my teeth and comb my hair in the same morning, or the luxury of eating food warmer than room temperature without it being served in a Styrofoam container.
If you don’t mind I could also use a few Christmas miracles to brighten the holiday season. Would it be too much trouble to declare ketchup a vegetable? It would clear my conscience immensely. It would also be helpful if you could coerce my children to help clean up around the house without demanding payment as if they were the bosses of an organized crime family; or if my toddler didn’t look so cute sneaking downstairs in his pajamas to eat contraband ice cream at midnight.
Well, Santa, the buzzer on the dryer is buzzing and my son saw my feet under the laundry room door. I think he wants his crayon back. Have a safe trip and remember to leave your wet boots by the chimney and come in and dry off by the fire so you don’t catch cold. Help yourself to some cookies on the table, but don’t eat too many or leave crumbs on the carpet.
Signed, Yours Always, Mom
P.S. One more thing: You can cancel all of those requests if you will do just one thing for me . . . keep my children young forever.
Now, wouldn’t that would be nice . . . to keep our children forever young, forever joyfully anticipating the arrival of Santa, forever believing that the world is a place completely filled with beauty, and love and joy and peace. But as the parents of a 21 year old who is getting close to graduating college and the step-parent of a 25 year old who will soon not even be able to qualify for being on our health insurance, I know all too well that eventually, they must grow up and learn about life in the real world. A real world that is not always pretty, where presents don’t always show up under the tree, where there is not always a warm bed to crawl into on a cold winter’s night. So, yes, on some level we would like to keep our children forever young. But we know that we can’t do that. Nor should we.
There is another temptation, however. That is to keep the child we meet on this night in the manger forever the same. This is the temptation of Christmas. To come to church and worship the baby in a manger and then to return to our real world lives and ignore the fact that the child born in Bethlehem became a man . . . a man from Nazareth who turned over the money-changers’ tables in the temple, a man who lived his life for others, a man who loved the unlovable, cleansed lepers, washed the feet of his disciples, and gave his life not just for those who believe in him, but for all of humankind.
There is also the temptation to forget that this man, Jesus, calls us to follow him all year long by loving our enemies, by doing good both to and for those who mistreat us, by seeking to live into the kingdom of God every day, always seeking to live as he would have us live. It’s alright if sentimentally we want our children small so they can be forever innocent and we can always have the joy of caring for them, but it’s not alright to want to forever keep the Christ child small so he won’t inconvenience us or make demands on us.
In Luke’s version of the Christmas story some shepherds were out in the fields near the place that housed the manger in which the Christ child lay. When the story of Jesus’ birth has been told, Luke then tells us that the shepherds, “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” And I sometimes wonder . . . whatever happened to those shepherds? There’s no mention of them again in the scriptures, but undoubtedly their lives were changed forever. Just as our lives are meant to be changed by our encounter with Christ.
For the shepherds, this was a completely unexpected experience. They were simply going about their business, watching over their sheep, when the angels’ announcement burst into their lives. But that’s the way life is and that’s the way God works. Sometimes we find God, or better said, God finds us because we are searching and therefore are open to God’s presence. Sometimes we don’t even know what it is we’re searching for. But God knows. And God is always there, reaching out to us in one way or another and beckoning us to have a relationship with the One who created us and makes our lives holy.
Some of you came here this evening/morning searching for God. Others of you came to sing Christmas carols, to be with your family in a beautiful, holy space. Or maybe you came just because it has always been your tradition and you want to keep that part of your childhood alive a little longer.
I pray that whatever your reason for being here, something might happen this night/day that will cause you to hear the voice of an angel saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born for you; he is the Messiah, Christ the Lord.” And then suddenly I hope you will hear in the quietness of your heart a great company of the heavenly hosts, with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
And I hope you will leave this place in some small way touched by that experience and moved to look at your life in light of it.
That is my prayer for you this night/morning and for the year to come.