The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero
I love Christmas Eve at First Parish. I love the two services and the wonderful music and storytelling. I love seeing the young adults returning home for the holidays and people bringing their extended families to join us in telling an ancient sacred tale. I love the candle lighting and the soft light it creates in our sanctuary. This year, in particular, I loved watching as those same young adults who had grown up at First Parish and had not yet seen the building renovation walk in and stand in awe of the changes. I cherished their delight in the new entrance and the new elevator and the new bathrooms on both floors! I love watching the little ones in our congregation with their excitement about the night and their glow sticks ready to go for Sllent Night. I imagine them in ten or fifteen years, coming back to First Parish as young adults, going from room to room, “Do you remember when? Do you remember?”
I love the story we tell on Christmas Eve of Jesus’ birth, and all those who attended it in wonder and in hope. As I said in my meditation at the 8 pm service:
Tenderness: this is the quality that I feel underlies the whole Advent and Christmas story. The tenderness of Mary for her new baby. Joseph’s tenderness for Mary and the child who is and is not his. The shepherds tending their sheep against the dangers of the night. The tenderness of the angels “bending near the earth” with their love song for a weary world that cannot hear it; and the tenderness of the person this child would become: Jesus, who embodied God’s love for every human being, and called for us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The world is not a tender place right now. It never is—as there is always conflict and war; violence and hatred; poverty and injustice; loss and sorrow somewhere. But it feels meaner and colder now. We live in a time not just of deep divisions but of the demonizing of our neighbors. I imagine that if Jesus had a say in all this, he would ask to pay less attention to the story of his birth, and more attention to his words and his ministry—the way he treated the people who came to him for healing and for hope, who wished to be touched by Love. As Howard Thurman reminds us, the real work of Christmas is not in this story; it is in the Beatitudes, the blessings Jesus offered in his Sermon on the Mount:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.
I hope in the coming year, this tenderness bursts forth to help heal our world.