Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Christ was Born for This!" - A Reflection for Christmas, 2009

Last Saturday night I drove to Peterborough to join in the Christmas festivities at a party thrown by my oldest and dearest friend and his family. The night air was crisp, the heater was on in the car and the radio was tuned to a classical music station that played heavenly versions of all the best-loved Christmas carols and sacred music of the season. The traffic was mercifully light and this made for a time of solitude, peace, and reflection.

As I traveled and hummed, and yes, sung along, I realized how deeply this music was embedded into my soul and the very core of my being. I don’t remember learning this music. I suppose it has always been a part of me. And then I realized that the music of Christmas is a metaphor, or perhaps more accurately, a sacrament of my faith. I don’t remember becoming a Christian. To be sure, while I have had moments of conversion and awakening throughout my life (gentle, though these have been), I have always been a Christian. On that journey to Peterborough, I realized so poignantly in the songs of Christmas that the song of faith has ever been upon my heart.

How good it was to be celebrating the Nativity of our Lord amongst friends.

We live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith world. I have often admired the cultural traditions and faith traditions of others. The world into which I was born was somewhat less tolerant than the world into which my children have been born, and I rejoice at the openness that we have now toward those who have different cultural and faith stories than my own. Our intentional openness can sometimes make us self-effacing about our own stories, though. There are times when I have witnessed the wondrous stories and traditions of other communities and felt that my own religio-cultural heritage was somewhat bland, less exciting, and even less legitimate in comparison. There are times when I am ashamed at what my culture (in the name of my religion) has done to some of these others cultures and religions. There are times when it can be difficult to hear the song of faith on my heart.

And yet, in an automobile on a modern highway, in the cold of the night, through the programming of a radio station owned, ironically (or suitably?), by man of the Jewish faith, the song of my faith surfaced once again. The song is perhaps most suitably expressed in the words of a carol I’m sure I never sang as a child, but whose words, have ever formed the song of my heart, “In Dulci Jubilo”, or Good Christian Men Rejoice (or the more politically correct modern equivalent, “Good Christians, all Rejoice”). I cannot recall when I learned this carol, but it was likely as an adult in the church choir. Yet, the carol clearly articulates the substance of our Christian song of faith.

Good Christians all, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Listen now to what we say:
Jesus Christ is born today;
ox and ass before him bow and he is in the manger now!
Christ is born today;
Christ is born today!

Good Christians all, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice!
Hear the news of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this;
he has opened heaven’s door and we are blessed forever more!
Christ was born for this;
Christ was born for this.

“Good Christians all, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice!
Now ye need not fear the grave;
Jesus Christ was born to save;
come at his most gracious call to find salvation one and all!
Christ was born to save;
Christ was born to save.”

There are plenty of times when I do fear the grave. There are moments in the dark of a sleepless night when I lay awake and my faith fails me. There are moments when the darkness of death seems an empty abyss that cannot be overcome. There are moments when I look about me at the world and wonder if there is peace on earth, if there is any hope. There are moments when I look with shame upon the history of my culture and my church and wonder if there can be forgiveness for what we have done. I have my fearful moments. I have my moments of unbelief.

Yet, those dark moments cannot quell the song. He came to the world in the darkness of the night, at the darkest hour, and comes to us again and again when the darkness seems the most overpowering, and the eternal nothingness of death seems to have triumphed over heart and soul and voice. But last week, as the night fell and I drove toward the home of friend, it did not overwhelm me because an unquenchable song stirred in my heart. The door has not been slammed in our face, and the present and future are full of wondrous divine potential. Our Lord calls us into that life and we come. We shall not be crippled by the past, or fear the future, or be frightened by the grave -- this is what Christ was born for. In his most gracious call, his song becomes our song and salvation comes to one and all.

This is cause for celebration. When the Christian faith and life seem to have lost their lustre and we wonder why we gather this special night when so much seems wrong with the world (and when our culture and faith seem culpable in so much of the wrong) let us take a moment of quiet in the stillness of the night and ponder for a moment that newborn king who changes you and changes me into his image and likeness. Love incarnate.

To my friends of other faiths who celebrate festivals at this and other times of the year I wish you every blessing and peace, but at this moment, I sing my song of faith without shame or fear because that song makes me who I am, shapes who I am becoming, and gives me hope for a broken world. Christ has indeed opened every door, let us go forth boldly to meet him and believe in the kingdom that he brings, after all, “Christ was born for this!”

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves