For the past 30 years, looking for my Christmas sermon was part of my annual holiday tradition. My mother used to say that it took the place of my childhood tradition of searching for unwrapped, but carefully hidden Christmas presents. This year, I don’t have to look for a sermon, as I’m no longer preaching at Christmas. However, I do want to share with you reflections on a Christmas past that has come full circle.
During the last year of my mother’s life, I attended the Christmas party in the memory unit of Judson Park, the retirement community where my mother lived. I joined the holiday festivities with some 14 of my mother’s companions, their caregivers, and a small handful of spouses and children.
My mother’s peers were a fascinating group of women and men who, in their prime, were doctors, dentists, lawyers, nurses, therapists, college professors, business executives, sales clerks, homemakers, civic volunteers, and church leaders. Due to dementia and memory loss, they were living in a small and protected world, vulnerable and dependent on the care, compassion and respect of others.
I walked into the unit singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and then offered hugs, kisses and season’s greetings all around. My mother looked up, smiled and greeted me with her usual: “Where did you come from?” And as usual, I responded: “Mars,” as I sat down next to her.
For the following 30 minutes or so, we sipped wine and coffee, ate cookies and brownies, opened bags of candy and ornaments prepared by local school children, and listened to Christmas carols and sentimental holiday music played on the piano by a delightful Jewish cantor.
With the evening coming to a close, the pianist began the familiar refrain of “Silent Night.” I put my arm around my mom and started to sing, and so did she. I glanced around the room at this little community of women and men who probably could not have told you what they had eaten for dinner, and most of them were singing or humming as well. I saw two other daughters and one son with arms around their moms, and I realized that we all had tears in our eyes. Here we were: adult children holding our vulnerable, elderly mothers in our arms as they had held us when we were young; middle-aged children laughing, singing and playing with our aging mothers who now saw the world through the eyes of a child; grown-up children helping our mothers eat cookies and drink from their cups in the same way they had helped us when we were little.
In the singing, feeding and holding of our vulnerable mothers, we - their daughters and sons, the fruit of their wombs - were given permission to be vulnerable. After all, they were still our moms. The roles were reversed, but the honesty, vulnerability and grace of love remained. There we were – authentically ourselves in this time and space none of us ever thought we would see.
Fast forward four years…This past Sunday, I attended the Festival of Lessons and Carols at the American Cathedral in Paris. As I sat in the pew listening to Christmas readings and songs I know so well, I found myself weeping with uncontrollable tears and shaking with increasingly common tremors. Emily, my beloved partner and amazing spouse, put her arm around me and held me tight as she sang the words to “Silent Night.”
Christmas is about vulnerability. God dared to come into the world in the most vulnerable way possible – a newborn baby. No matter how you understand or explain the complexity of this mystery we call the incarnation, Christmas asserts that the very character of God is revealed in a naked, needy, dependent, gurgling, grubby, smelly, sometimes happy and sometimes cranky, defenseless baby. The infant Jesus had no more ability to care for himself than any other newborn baby, severely disabled adult, or person with advanced dementia, but that is how God chose to come among us on that first Christmas. In Jesus, God became vulnerable so that we would have the courage to be vulnerable and have compassion for the vulnerable among us.
In the incarnation, God cultivated love by becoming vulnerable, and making the Divine Self deeply seen and known, speaking his mind and sharing her heart with a weary world. In Jesus, God appeared on earth as the most weak and defenseless creature imaginable so that we would take him into our hearts and be equally courageous and vulnerable, and then to courageously care for the vulnerable among us, those with whom God is pleased to dwell.
At Christmas, I am reminded that no matter what’s going on in the world or in my own life, when we light the candles and sing “Silent Night,” if I look carefully, I see the face of God; if I listen closely, I hear the voice of God; and if I make myself vulnerable, I feel the love of God enter my heart and be born anew.
And that is my Christmas prayer for each and every one of you. May you look carefully and see the face of God in those around you, may you listen closely and hear the voice of God in those around you, may you make yourself vulnerable and feel the love of God enter your heart this Christmas, and then may you have the compassion and courage to speak out and care for the vulnerable ones with whom God is pleased to dwell.
Merry Christmas from Paris! - Tracey