You are included! | Jeff Nowers | Christmas Eve 2019
The story of Jesus’ birth is one that we never grow tired of. That’s one reason why church buildings like this one are filled to capacity on Christmas Eve. We gather to sing familiar and uplifting carols, and to see children reenact the story of Joseph and Mary—like we’ve just witnessed.
But Christmas is more than warm sentimental feelings that may fade quickly in a few weeks. Christmas is about lasting Good News for everyone, which can be summed up this way: You are included. Christmas is about a light shining through the darkness of our world, a light that touches all of us with meaning and illumination and love. No one is excluded, which means we’re all included. You are included.
The light of Christmas shines in and through every circumstance, no matter how dark. A young woman named Mary, whose scandalous pregnancy threatens to make her a social pariah—she’s included. A young couple who can’t find suitable lodging, so they’re forced to take up shelter in a cave, in a livestock feeding station filled with the stench of manure—they’re included. Shepherds of very little means, forced to work the midnight shift—they’re included. In our city, families struggling to choose between paying the rent or buying enough groceries—they’re included. People who have no recourse but to live in tents under bridges—they’re included. And what about those doing hard time in prison—they’re included too. Bay street executives, corporate lawyers, overwhelmed with high level decision-making and long work hours—they’re included. Those coming to terms with illness and bleak prognosis—they’re included. How about teenagers, wondering what to do after high school—they’re included. Refugees, who’ve gone through harrowing ordeals to seek safety in Canada, but then must begin a new struggle to establish themselves—they’re included. Toddlers without a care in the world—they’re included too. The busy mom of three kids, juggling working, parenting and commitment to an equally busy spouse—she’s included. What about skeptics and agnostics? I’m sure there’s a few here in our midst. No problem; they’re included. Church may not be your thing; maybe you’re here this afternoon only because someone close to you has insisted on it. Not an issue; you’re included too.
That’s the amazing gift of Christmas. God’s light of love shines everywhere, in the ordinary and especially in the darkest situations. But it can be a blazing light that might startle us and make us uncomfortable. It forces us out of our secure spaces because the light is not just for us; it’s for everyone, even those we don’t like or don’t approve of. Even Mr. Grinch. You know how the story ends: the light shines on him and transforms him. It doesn’t only illuminate those who have it all together; it shines in and through the lives of those in dire straits. It shines into every corner of the world and beyond. God is present—in the ordinary and mundane, in situations of stress and alienation, in comfort and strength, in suffering and despair; God is at work to transform the darkness of our world into lasting radiance. God is at work in you. You are included.
So Christmas in the final analysis issues us all a challenge. The challenge is, as the words to the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem put it, to allow the “holy child of Bethlehem descend to us” and “be born in us today.” The challenge set before us is to embrace the light of love, to let it shine through us in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our places of work, and in our relations with everyone we encounter. Let’s not hide the light of Christmas or block it. Embrace it for yourself. Join with others who’ve embraced it and bask in their radiance. Widen your circle of welcome to include the stranger. My wish for each and every one of you is that you will know that you are included. The Christmas light of love is for you. May it bring you joy and guide your life in the coming year and beyond. Merry Christmas to you all!