2016 Christmas Message
Christmas is a time when there's so much beauty in the air that is gentle: the ornaments that we have on our trees, the wondrous ways in which we try to encourage one another, gathering in places of comfort, eating comfort food and food that helps bring us together.
I like to think of Christmas as an expression of beauty that is mystical. That is deeply profound. And one of the places that I find this beauty generated is in the midst of chaos. Jesus was born in a time when there was so much political upheaval, movement, migration of peoples around the world. He himself was part of a family that was moving – in that sense of the word, unsettled. He comes into this world in that context.
So, I like to think of this beauty that Jesus embodies as a collateral beauty, where there is a sense of beauty that is coming out of unexpected places, in the midst of events that were pretty chaotic.
I grew up in India, and in India one of the rituals that I saw constantly was the breaking of the coconut, at pretty much every temple. And I always wondered why they broke a coconut in front of the deity. And I’ve understood over the years that one of the meanings behind it is the shattering of the ego in the presence of the divine. And the coconut is one of those expressions of what it means to be human: it has a kernel of white fruit inside, there's water inside, there's a crust that is really hard. And the devotee breaks the coconut in front of the deity, and with that expression of a ritual, there is a sense of letting go of the ego.
There's another ritual that was more domestic, in that you broke a coconut more carefully in the house, and you broke it and split it in two, so that you could save the water inside, and then use the coconut itself for cooking purposes, which continues to delight me.
In both those rituals though, there is a sense in which there is a letting go and an enriching of the other. Christmas is many ways to me that deep expression of God choosing a collateral beauty in the midst of the damage and chaos around the world. And this is how I hear Jesus described in Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
So, the invitation from Christ to us is that we, too, will be part of the beauty – the collateral beauty – that Christ’s presence enables us to enjoy. AS it was in the manger, where we hear the angelic chorus go, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth” we hear the echo on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
Where Jesus is there is collateral beauty. May it be so for us in our hearts this Christmas.
The second thing I want to say is, also, that there is an adaptive beauty in the story of nativity. The holy family goes and finds no place in the inn. And they find room in what is described as a cattle stall – a stinky place that they call home, for the moment. A manger which is supposed to feed cattle becomes the cradle that holds the Christ child.
There is an adaptiveness that we are invited to at Christmas. Where no matter where we are, no matter what our status is, God is present. And within that adaptive moment there is beauty.
There are millions of people who are refugees today. There are people in Mosul. There are people in Berlin who are hurting because of violence. But no matter what the context is, the spirit of Christmas is about inviting us to be adaptive and see the beauty of life in this moment. May it be so for each of us.
And finally, there is also a courageous beauty that is embedded – embedded – in our Christmas story. Every time there is a revelation of this beautiful thing that is happening where the Incarnation is supposed to happen. Whether it is in a dream for Joseph or for Mary, where the angel comes and greets them very clearly with those profound words, “Do not be afraid” – this is going to be challenging, but do not be afraid – and in every instance, there was a sense of dependence on God that gave these very simple, ordinary people extraordinary courage to pursue this birth.
But more importantly, the abundant life that comes out of this birth.
So, my friends, we live in very complicated times. There’s a lot of fear. There is anxiety. But in the midst of it, the word of God to each of us – through whatever angelic channel that might be – is, “Do not be afraid. I am with you. And I will come with you as you go through this journey.”
I pray that you and your family have a wonderful, happy Christmas. And I also pray that 2017 is purposeful, where you will see collateral beauty in your life through the lenses that God has given you. That you will be adaptive in recognizing beauty and that you will have the courage — and that that courage will be beautiful.
Have a Happy Christmas and a very purposeful 2017.