Isn’t it great to sing the Christmas carols? They bring joy and peace and a sense that, if but for a moment, all is right with the world. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been known to throw a carol or two into a summer service here at Christ Church. Christmas in July. When it’s been too long since the previous Christmas and too many months until the next, and we need some joy and peace, a Silent Night, an O Little Town of Bethlehem, or a Joy to the World is just what the doctor ordered. Balm for the soul.
Christmas caroling with people young and old, in homes and nursing homes, as we did once again this past Sunday night, lightens the mood of one and all.
I love the words of the carols, but these especially from O Holy Night speak to my spirit.
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
As I recently wrote in a Christmas letter, “The lyrics capture the wonder of divinity infusing human life and shinning out into the world—even in the darkest of times. They also touch upon some of our greatest desires for love, peace, freedom, and joy.
However, before I become too sappy—wrapped in sentimentality—in the background is the knowledge that the world is seriously askew – something’s fundamentally wrong. As a friend has written:
“This is the confusion I carry with me into these pivotal days when Advent turns to Christmas, the music gets better, churches go all out, families gather, and the delight of children becomes the sign of God’s love. Is Christmas just a one-day break in our captivity to fear and hatred? Or are we truly welcoming the one who said, “Don’t be afraid,” and “Love your neighbor”?”
Sadly, there are many for whom there’s little love and peace, who experience oppression and sorrow on a daily basis. While we gather here to sing the carols and perhaps catch a glimpse of a brighter world, we need to make another move as well. That is, to allow the Spirit of the child of Bethlehem to enter into our hearts and souls and minds so that we can bring his love and peace to those who know it not.
Confounding the expectations of many, when God determined to come into the world, he did not enter with legions and military might. He came as an infant—a vulnerable infant—much like those small children whose bodies wash up on Mediterranean beaches—victims of forces that care not a wit for them—forces of geo-politics, and the might of armies, militias and terrorists. The babies are but a sampling of the misery of hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps and stretched along migration routes.
Here at home powerful voices are calling for banning all Moslem brothers and sisters from entering the country, carpet-bombing people, and “let’s kill all their family members just because we can.”
Jesus is no stranger to the same powerful forces: no place to lay his head (displaced from his home by a decree from the Roman Caesar) and a refugee in Egypt (fleeing King Herod who was willing to kill all the infants of Bethlehem in an effort to end the life of just one holy child of God)—never understanding that all infants are holy. Jesus birth was announced not in the halls of the powerful and wealthy, but to poor shepherds who tended the flocks of the powerful and wealthy.
My wife, Ann, and I have been frequently asked by our children, “What do you want for Christmas?” Our common response is “World peace.” Frustrated, knowing they can’t fulfill that wish, they ask, “What else?” Lowering our sites a little we say, “How about peace in the house?” The latest response to that is “What do you want for Christmas that can come wrapped in a box?”
But therein, I think, lies the key to Christmas. I like stuff that comes in boxes, and I like to give things wrapped in boxes. But the true gifts, the gifts that bring light into the world, are not the things that we demand or even receive. I want a whole lot of things like world peace, peace at home, more civility and caring for all of God’s creatures, and for the earth. I want hatred to disappear and fear to flee. I want less greed.
I want those things, but I doubt that I’ll receive them.
But do you know what? I can give them as gifts to others.
I can be more peaceful and refuse to foster divisions and hatred. I can be more patient and try to bring light to those who live in and with darkness. I can be kind and civil. I can do my part to care for God’s earth and to live as best I can without fear of my brothers and sisters—regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I can be more generous with my time and talent and treasure.
Sister Joan Chittister, one of America’s leading spiritual voices, has written:
…That is the kind of peace—disarmed, foreign to hate, and receiving of the other—that was born in the manger we remember at Christmas time. That is the kind of Christmas peace we must ourselves seek to be. Then ‘Merry Christmas’ will really mean something.
I wish for you this Christmas and throughout the New Year much love, deep peace, great freedom, abundant joy – and a carol in your heart that sounds each and every day for all around to hear. It’s an act of resistance, a carol of hope, and a work of love. Sing it loudly!
 Tom Ehrich, On A Journey blog for December 24, 2015: The Actual Fire of Christmas, http://us2.campaignarchive2.com/?u=280c8a3a560d5fa7931fe38ba&id=68faaad11f&e=72736cea70 (accessed 10 am on 12/24/15)
 Joan Chittister