This is a wonderful night, isn’t it? A truly wonderful night. Maybe you’ve had Celebrations with loved ones. Maybe you’ve been having nice food and favorite drinks. Maybe opening presents or looking forward to opening presents. Yet this night, this Holy and precious night, is of course about so much more than good food and good people and even then presents.
Pastor Heidi Neumark tells the story of talking with her granddaughter - after her granddaughter overheard her speaking on the phone about the person who had fallen drunkenly asleep on the church steps, blocking the teenagers who were trying to get to the door of the homeless shelter where they would sleep that night at the church. Her granddaughter was just four years old, so Pr. Neumark explained things, more or less. And after thinking over what she had heard, the pastor’s granddaughter, whose name was Mia, said, “Oma, it was a cozy step.” Because, as Pr. Neumark remarked a child could not imagine anyone sleeping out on a cold, hard, concrete step.
Her granddaughter Mia didn’t hear the part of this story where most of the teens sleeping in that shelter are transgender youth who have been kicked out of their homes by their parents or out of their home countries. Yet those lucky enough to be in that safe shelter, that safe refuge, had beds. And many had quilts made by the sister of a church member, whose ministry of quilt-making was interrupted by a life-threatening illness. Mia didn’t hear the part of the story of how this brave woman, when facing her own death, had insisted she would finish the quilt she was working on. And she did. And then she died.
Mai didn’t hear the part of the story about how, on another night, Pastor Neumark would come to the church and find someone sleeping on the steps again - was it the same person? And find that they had one of those homemade quilts draped over them, and she would come to learn that one of those teenagers sleeping inside the homeless shelter had decided the person outside needed that quilt stitched with love more than they did.
But back to the conversation between grandmother and grandchild, interpreting the troubles of the world for a four-year-old girl. Eventually, as Mia was tucked into her safe bed in a safe and welcoming home by her grandmother, she said she had a question.
“What does God look like?” asked Mia.
Pr. Neumark says that since Mia doesn’t attend church, she treasures times when they can talk about life and the mystery of it all and pray together. And as they prayed that night, Mia interrupted to pray for people without homes.
We might also wonder, we might also ask, “What does God look like?”
And perhaps we see God in the child with questions, questions such as we all have?
Perhaps God looks like that person who feel asleep on the step?
Or like that woman who died of cancer but finished the handmade quilt?
Or like that trans youth giving their handmade quilt to someone they thought needed it more?
What does God look like?
We may always wonder for it is the nature of being human to wonder and to question and this is good and part of how God made us to be. And it is also in our nature and capacity to be drawn into the mystery and majesty of God. God who is eternal, but who is also born as a human child in a manger. A baby born so that we might see what God looks like. A baby born on the night when at last, God’s Mercy that had taken up residence in Mary’s womb was given birth in hope for all the world.
Mercy for a hurting world and Mercy for all the faces of all the people in whom we can see God if God can give us eyes to see.
So, this night, this night when so many of us feast; this night when so many of us celebrate in so many different and wonderful ways; this holy, precious night is the night that belongs to Mercy and Mercy’s name is the Messiah, Jesus who is Christ our Savior, born for us and for all the world to see.
When we feast on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we raise a glass to Mercy, and we look for who else’s glass we might fill. When we rest on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we give thanks to God who in Mercy has given us a moment of peace and ask how we might help build peace and rest for others in this world.
Yes, this night belongs to the God of Mercy come down and Mercy has been given to us, granted to us. So, Merry Christmas everyone. And as another character in another story named Tiny Tim once said, a little boy who was aching with life’s worries and struggles yet caught up in the arms of God’s Mercy and ultimately cared for by a Scrooge whose heart was melted and changed; as Tiny Tim once declared: “God bless us, every one.”
Now, as we gather on this holiest of nights to welcome our newborn Savior, we remember that we are gathered by God in Christ not only with all of us present online and in person for worship. We are gathered with humanity around the whole earth. And as we light our candles and sing with joy and hope and reverence, we especially remember those for whom living and being on this night may not be easy:
- The people of Ukraine and other places dealing with war and violence.
- For families grieving and those not speaking to one another.
- For those stuck out in the cold and those whose bellies are not filled with treats.
Yes, we remember, we sing, and we praise the God who remembers us and draws us and this whole world - with all of her hopes and dreams and sorrows - into the eternal song that is great enough that it will, by Mercy, bring all things into harmony in the fullness of time.