Throughout Advent I have become fascinated with the many both/ands of our faith. For we have been both waiting for the birth of Jesus – and yet Jesus has already been born. As we gather here with family and friends this evening…or have come here on our own…as solitary wanderers…seeking…some connection with the Holy. We. Have. Come.
We have some in part, because this is what we always do. For some, going to church on Christmas Eve is woven into the family tradition. Of course, we are going to church on Christmas Eve. For others, maybe some of you that did not grow up in the life of the church, this whole Christmas Eve thing is new…or newish. And yet in all our wanderings, our losses, loneliness, and moments of great joy – we come together this evening to retell the Story. Herein lies another both/and of our faith as followers of Jesus… and/or as people that are questioning our faith…and/or as people that aren’t really sure what they believe in…
For whatever reason you came here this evening—tonight, the Work of Christmas begins.
For in all of the despair we see posted on social media and in the news, as Jesus people we have this radical understanding of the presence of great hope. In the darkness, there is light breaking forth. We are a people of God’s Story. God’s Story of Love over fear. Life over death.
I want to share with you a poetic prayer written by Howard Thurman entitled “The Work of Christmas Begins.” Thurman was an African-American Baptist pastor and theologian who lived from 1899 until 1981. Hear now these words:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
In his writings, Thurman explores the interconnectedness between other both/ands we encounter in church. In particular, he explored this idea about the “inwardness” and the “outwardness” of religion. In this both/and of the human encounter with God through Christ and the Spirit, he suggested that as people come together in worship, there is both the potential for inner transformation at the level of the individual…and also an outer overall growth in faith as a Body of Christ. Thurman writes that while God’s “…intent is for integration, for wholeness, for community within the limitations of the (human) organism itself,” he cautions that there is also “the potential for disharmony reside(ing) in (the human being and human community).”
And thus people of God, the Work of Christmas begins.
For the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us brings us to a new understanding of God. This child born in a manger, totally reliant on a teenage mother. This young woman far away from her home, newly wed, dirty, tired, uncertain, excited… held God in her hands. She fed God in the most intimate, sensory, connected way. She was a part of God’s birth process. Of God bursting forth in our midst. Emmanuel. God With Us.
And thus, the Work of Christmas begins.
How many of you are familiar with hashtags? Hashtags, which look to some of us like a number sign… or pound sign… or a tick tack toe game, are a way to search for a specific topic of conversation on social media platforms such as Twitter. I have been following #Adventword, a global Advent calendar through which a people around the world reflect on, and respond to, a unique word each day throughout Advent.
Today, December 24, the #Adventword was Celebrate. The moderator’s of the conversation posted that: “Christmas is a feast of the senses! It is a celebration of our ability to see and know and taste and touch the power and glory and revelation of God. It is not just about a birth that happened long, long ago and far, far away. It is about the way in which God manifests (God’s) self to us in the person of Jesus as friend and food and hope and love. It is a celebration of our ability to grasp God and to sense (God) with all our being.”
And thus, the Work of Christmas begins.
The work of Christmas begins in us. In you. In me. In our collective gathering. In our time outside of the walls of this building. The work is embedded in our “ability to see and know and taste and touch the power and glory and revelation of God” in all of God’s 7+ billion images living and breathing, working and suffering, fearing and grieving, seeking, wandering, questioning, sharing and smiling, hoping and laughing, wondering, longing…being.
Grasping God and to sensing (God) with all our being.
So – welcome to the work of the Church! May God’s transformative love and healing grace as we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch the presence of the Holy in our going and doing. In these interwoven, relational moments, harmony has the opportunity to resonate with God’s vision of universal well-being for all.
This is our work.
Let it begin.
 Thurman, Howard. The Creative Encounter; an Interpretation of Religion and the Social Witness. New York: Harper, 1954. 20-21.
 Thurman, Howard. The Search for Common Ground; an Inquiry into the Basis of Man’s Experience of Community. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. 39.
 Thurman, Howard. The Search for Common Ground; an Inquiry into the Basis of Man’s Experience of Community. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. 25.