One evening, not too terribly long ago, I needed to jump start my Christmas spirit. So, I curled up into the corner of the couch with a blanket and a freshly brewed cup of coffee and settled in for a few mindless hours with Netflix. I was maybe a fourth of the way into my chosen flick, when my friend Amy called. “Whatcha’ doin’?” she inquired. “Oh just watching a stupid Christmas movie.” “Is it one of those where in the end they get everything they ever wanted including the guy?” Embarrassed to have been caught watching such sappy smaltz, I replied “Yes. Plenty of unrealistic holiday angst and cheer complete with snow on Christmas Day and a ‘foot popping kiss’ in the last thirty minutes.” “Not gonna happen” she said. “I know.”
We all have our favorite Christmas movies, the ones we watch year after year – holiday staples if you will. Movies that bring friends and families together, even give us common ground for small talk with strangers. Films that inspire us, make us laugh, or bring us to tears. And sometimes, they remind us of what Christmas is all about – capturing the timeless story of hope and joy and love and the birth of a child.
These reminders make their appearance in the most obvious of ways like in a Charlie Brown Christmas or a beloved rendition of the Christmas Carol. Others can be found in the classics of White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. Or perhaps, you find such meaning in more modern films like Love Actually or Family Stone. Yet at times, the meaning of Christmas creeps in, in the most unlikely places of all.
Enter Buddy the Elf, who traveled the seven levels of the candy cane forest, journeyed through the sea of twirly whirly gum drops, and finally sped through the Lincoln Tunnel and straight into our hearts with exclamations of “Santa, I know him!” Buddy is a man of great joy, filled with a tremendous amount of belief and wonder, which he extols to all whom he encounters. He finds joy in riding the elevator and lighting up the buttons in the shape of Christmas tree. He shows us the proper way to greet someone is to tell them your name and then ask their favorite color. But perhaps most of all, he likes to smile. “Smiling’s my favorite” he says. And he reminds us to never overlook the opportunity to show affection and give someone a hug. Buddy’s life lessons are full of genuineness, but there is one lesson in particular I find most memorable and applicable to the gospel lesson we hear today. It even ranks number three in the Code of Elves! “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” I’ll say it once more just to make sure you heard it, “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing out loud for all to hear.”
In a world that so often pushes past joy and excitement and focuses on the negative or the next best thing, we’ve simply shut down and let the extraordinary become ordinary. Buddy invites us to be present in the here and now and take the risk of spreading cheer. Imagine if we were able to bring Buddy’s level of wonder and amazement to our encounter with God. What would it be like were we to respond with such enthusiasm not only this Christmas morning, but throughout the entire year “Jesus, I know him!”
We see in today’s lesson various styles of processing information. The shepherd’s talk it out, and are spontaneous in their reaction. As soon as they see Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger, the shepherds make known what has been told them and all are amazed. And then upon leaving the holy family, they praise and glorify God for all they have seen and heard! They can’t contain, they just have to tell someone and immediately engage others in the conversation. Yet Mary treasures all these words and ponders them in her heart. She demonstrates the merits of feeling as well as thinking it out. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Mary in this state.
Just yesterday morning, Advent 4, we heard the reading which precedes this one in which the Angel Gabriel appears and announces an impending and miraculous birth. But Mary doesn’t freak out, she is perplexed! She’s thinking, trying to understand clearly. It’s a bit confusing to be honest. Yet she sings her fearless song-responding to her unique call with faith and trust- let it be with me as it pleases God she says. Nothing is impossible with God and “while it doesn’t mean God will do anything and everything” it does mean that today through the humble birth of Jesus all other things become possible. So yes, Mary clings to what has happened. She continues to ponder the events and the words…the angel Gabriel’s visitation, her visit with Elizabeth, the journey to Bethlehem, giving birth in a stable, of the shepherds’ visit, and on and on.
Our engagement with Mary points us to the Christ child, and ultimately helps us to see with greater clarity the many dimensions possible as we engage with this new born babe. She models for us learned compassion, and an ability to listen often and listen deeply. Mary becomes a means for us to discover and more fully understand our nuanced relationship with God so that we can in turn share that message with others. Through quietly listening and observing, we are able to inwardly digest and then outwardly respond according to God’s will. Our relationship with God and our faithfulness to the teachings of his Son is a relationship which must be continually sought after and nurtured faithfully.
Theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer spent two years in prison for his vocal opposition to Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. While there, he corresponded with family and friends, pastored to fellow prisoners, and reflected on the meaning of “Jesus Christ for today.” In a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethage in 1944, Bonheoffer speaks of our relationship to God in terms of a fixed song, a cantus firmus. That is a pre-existing melody that forms the basis for a multi-voiced composition. While there are “twists in pitch and style, counterpoint and refrain,” the fixed song is “the enduring melody, not always in the forefront, but always playing somewhere within the composition.”
In essence, what Bonheoffer says is this: “God the Eternal, wants to be loved with our whole heart, not to the detriment of earthly love or to diminish it, but as a sort of [fixed song] to which the other voices of life resound in counterpoint. Where the [song] is clear and distinct, a counterpoint can develop as mightily as it wants. The two are undivided yet distinct…like the divine and human natures of Christ. Only this [multi-voiced composition] gives your life wholeness, and you know that no disaster can befall you as long as the [song] continues…Have confidence in the [fixed song].” (Women, Wisdom and Witness, p. 23-24)
This Christmastide, see the extraordinary in the ordinary, wonder in amazement at God and God’s marvelous works. Perhaps in so doing, we will learn to grab hold of these precious moments, ponder them in our hearts, and hold them in our hands before the memory of them flies away. Willingly and with an open heart, cling tightly to the song of God as it flows over and around us listening intently for what speaks of joy, what our souls are praying over and over, and how the light is shining in the darkness. Unto us is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord. It is in this we find our tune, and join in the chorus spreading Christmas cheer singing out loud for all to hear.