....But something had happened -- deep down inside of me, and I hope deep down inside of many of those visitors who came to the church and heard the story for the first time. I saw it in the faces of all of those awestruck visitors, their eyes glowing in the light of the candles. I saw it in the faces of my Japanese Christian friends, all celebrating the true Christmas when thoughts of family and presents danced in my head. I felt it in my heart as I realized the difference between the Christmases I had celebrated before and the Christmas I knew now. Christmas doesn't have anything to do with food or family, glittering decorations or presents and parties. I thought about this as I sat and heard the Christmas story in Japanese that evening. I thought about the strange exotic place where I lived, and how the story I was hearing was really strange and exotic too -- except that I had known it so well that I didn't think about it. Shepherds and angels -- the heavenly host lighting up the sky with their songs. A tiny baby who is really God -- come to dwell with us, come to this strange cold planet at this cold cold time of the year, come to befriend us and to lead us, come to intimately know us and be known by us. How strange and how amazing that is -- that God should be among us, should choose to dwell with us. How strange and how amazing it is that God should come among us not with might and power, not with thunderbolts or armies, but quietly and softly, in an out-of-the-way little town called Bethlehem. How strange and how amazing it is that God should come among us in ordinary ways, in all our ordinary days, in whatever place we find ourselves. It is a strange and exotic story, this story about God hidden among the poor ones, hidden in the hay, hidden in Bethlehem, hidden your life, no matter where you may be.
Despite all your preparations and your celebrations, despite all your planning and hard work, Christmas is not, in the end, something you do. Christmas is something that happens to you when God enters your life and takes you by surprise. It happened when Jesus was born in a strange city far away called Bethlehem, and it happens whenever the Christ child is born in our hearts, when the old old story becomes new, when we hear it again but for the first time. Christmas can happen in Minneapolis or in Japan, among friends or strangers, in an empty room or a crowded church -- for the presence of God in our midst makes even hay and straw exotic, and the song of the angels makes the most ordinary evening mysterious. And the glow of the smallest candles sheds light on us as God comes as a stranger to dwell in our world and make it holy, to walk through our nights and make them holy, to enter our hearts and lives and make them holy.
Those church visitors were right on that Christmas eve in Japan. It is a strange and mysterious story. Something has happened, deep in your hearts, deep down on the inside. God has come here, and behind and underneath everything that seems just the same -- everything has changed. Everything has become holy. Even though you might get up tomorrow morning and see the same Christmas tree as you did last night, and even though the faces of your family might look just the same -- everything has changed, and everyone has changed, and you have been changed -- deep down, on the inside, where God works wonders.
May the holy Child dwell in your hearts this Christmas eve and every evening, and may we all hear the story again for the first time.
Thanks for your patience. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.