I have been scanning old family pictures. Many are of photographs that my dad took when we – my two sisters and four brothers – were little. I showed them to my oldest brother, Johnny, not too long ago and I could feel him absorbing as many details as possible. He lingered a long time over each picture. He said, “If I look at these in the quiet stillness of my room, I know I will start to cry. It has all been so beautiful. And all so good.”
The passing of things hits home as we grow older. Mortality begins to exact its claim when we have been given a lifetime to remember and look back – and wonder as to the beauty of it and its loss.
I mention this today because there is a space in the human heart that yearns for what was and what will be on Christmas. Expectations are heightened by the joy that surrounds us this Season. We look back and hope that all that was somehow still lives. We look ahead and hope that God will be good to us, to those we love, and, on this day, our hopes and desires for goodness reach out to the whole world. For that is what we are, in fact, as church. We span miles and history. We celebrate a birth that binds us all as brothers and sisters.
I have thought about what my brother said that day, when he felt loss looking at the photographs. He did not say as much in so many words, but is it not true that he was speaking out of a sense that the past had become a real and living part of his heart? Over the years, sisters and brothers, a mother and father, aunts and uncles and grandparents became more than simply other people. They shared life with him, with me, and somehow became a part of us. And when they pass from this life, it is as if a piece of us is missing – but something of them still lives within.
I do not know why that is, on simply human terms.
So let me try the Divine – a word or two from Revelation.
Let me try to speak of the Gift that is this Child whose birth we celebrate this day.
As he grew, people drew near to him. They loved him and wanted to be a part of him, a living part of his life. We all know what that desire is like, from the love that we feel for each other. And so it was that in time, he gave himself to them. His spirit was poured into them and he gave himself to them as food. God made his home in us. Something – Someone – lives in us and is God.
These are words we hear over and over again – but they come alive and take on a power when we hear ourselves – when we listen to our hearts, and what we say of love and longing – to each other or in the privacy of our rooms when we pray – or look at old pictures and hope that our heart’s wishes comes true.
The Abbot recently said that we have barely come to understand the meaning of the Incarnation. I had the image of my brother touching the surface of a photograph, hoping to better remember, love, and hold a person no longer present in this life.
Yes, we scratch the surface of life with our words, with trying to fathom the meaning of God becoming one of us.
But it is Christmas – and as much as we try and pick out the best gifts for those we love – be it something you can buy or say, write or hope – we do so from the love of a God who is making us a part of each other in much the same way that he has become a part of us – for that is what love does. That is what love is.
Yes, Johnny – it all was and is beautiful. And it has all become a part of us – and will live forever. It is the Gift of Christmas – and it always was. We just kind of feel it better and more deeply the older we get and the more it all becomes us.