11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
Reflection January 24, 2016
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
There are three times every year when I get REALLY excited about preaching. Those three times are: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Easter and Pentecost are always on a Sunday. Christmas moves around since it’s tied to a date not a Sunday.
I was puzzled eight and a half years ago when I came as pastor to our beloved church. I was informed that we did not celebrate Christmas with a service - neither on Christmas Eve nor on Christmas Day.
It seems the fourth Sunday of Advent was the church’s Christmas celebration. For me, that did not do justice to Christmas. So immediately I arranged a Christmas Day service so we could celebrate Christmas on Christmas. Many were happy with such a switch from past church practice.
Our Christmas Day service has grown over the past eight years but it continues to be somewhat sparsely attended. To be truthful, this mystifies me. Christmas is best celebrated on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day - not the fourth Sunday of Advent.
This year (2016) Christmas falls on a Sunday so we will not have an “extra” Christmas Day service. I suspect we will have a better attendance this Christmas Day than we’ve had when Christmas is not on a Sunday. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are three special days worth celebrating through church worship!
These thoughts serve as a prelude to this week’s Advance. I here include a few reflections from the Christmas Day sermon: Love Incarnate: We Were All Afraid.
“I remember only once going to see Santa. Santa was apparently working at Frank’s Department Store just west of Halsted on 79th Street. At that time, I didn’t know the amazing array and number of Santas. I thought we were going to see the one and only Santa!
My mother had brought my twin brother and me to Santa. I remember feeling frightened as I approached the tubby fellow but I sat on his lap nonetheless. I told him about the gifts I was dreaming of for Christmas. But I wasn’t too sure how this Santa business worked.
I saw Santa talking with my mother after my twin and I were done. In my mind I wondered if Santa was spilling the beans about what I wanted. Why would he tell my mother? What was going on? I wasn’t sure of the answers but my hopes were still brightly lit!
But, you see, there was a fairly big and unacknowledged problem. My family was a poor family. We just scrapped by with the money my father made loading freight cars for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. And the hoped-for gifts I had whispered into Santa’s ear were costly gifts. After all – why not go for broke if you’re in Santa’s lap? What did I know, after all?
That was the only time I sat in Santa’s lap. The Santa business seemed rigged – as it invariably must for those children born into poor families. Santa and I did not have a long and memorable history. But that’s all right because, as we know, Christmas is surely not about Santa.
Christmas is about Christ. Christmas is about a love so incredible that it was willing to be born into a poor Palestinian family – who also just scraped by on what meager resources were available to them. Now that I could comprehend! Here was a story – a truth - I could wrap my child’s arms around. Here was a story – a truth – that could find a welcome home in my child’s heart!
This story – this truth – has never left me. It still resides in the inner recesses of my heart – it still reverberates in the silent sanctuary of my soul. It is this story – this truth – that alone gives me hope. It is this story – this truth – that alone gives us pause to ponder its awesome reality.
Of course we must ask: why would Love Incarnate wish to be born among us? We can never really know for sure. None of us can ever begin to comprehend the mind of the Almighty. But I don’t believe the only purpose of this birth was to open up heaven’s gates for us. Such thinking is too limited to be worthy of the Almighty.
I believe part of the answer lies in the possibility that God wanted to deeply know what it felt like to be one of us. I believe God wanted to deeply know what it felt like to be a human. How else could God be able to judge us when the time comes?
If God the Almighty had no experience of what being human is like – how could God judge us? Now please understand that this is my own speculation – and I could be wrong. This is deep water we’re treading in because anything we can possibly say about God will be wrong in some significant and serious way. But – we keep trying.
This is why we have a Bible filled to over-flowing with all kinds of images, analogies, and symbols. This is why we have an army of theologians – to help us try to understand what is ultimately impossible to understand.
‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it’; ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us’ - words from the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Analogies such as these two Christmas analogies are almost impossible to fully fathom.
Often all we are left with is a sacred silence: ‘Silent night, holy night! All is calm – all is bright!’ And not only are we left with silence – we are also left with a touch of fear. After all, do we not all, from time to time, attempt to run away from that divine all-consuming love from which there is no refuge? ‘So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid!’ Of course, we were!”