Does anyone know what the weather is like in Bethlehem today? I checked on the internet and found that it’s warmer there than here – the lows today are around 50 and the highs in the upper 60s. It’s a Mediterranean climate there just as it is here. Have you noticed how many carols talk about the mid-winter cold, the snow and ice? If Jesus was born at this time of year it was probably chilly in what passed for a stable, but he wasn’t born amid the winter snow, there was no frosty wind making moan and the water certainly wasn’t frozen like a stone. In fact that kind of weather just doesn’t happen in Bethlehem.
So why do we keep singing carols which are based in a fantasy winter wonderland?
I suspect it’s because all of us have places in our lives which are cold and wintry, and places in our hearts which are frozen like stone. We long for the warmth and hope of the Christmas story to touch us in the frozen wastes of our pain and fear.
This year has been a particularly difficult one. Each one of us has been affected, and had loved ones affected, by the economic downturn. The country’s political process seems to have become so mired down that nothing can move forward, and the national conversation has once again become harsh and angry. Although the weather here on the California coast is nothing like the blizzard conditions in parts of the Midwest tonight, we are urgently in need of warming news, news of hope, peace and goodwill to all.
And so we come here to sing carols, and we turn on the radio or play our favorite CDs to give us hope and inspiration. What hope can we find in the birth of an illegitimate child born to an unwed teenager in an insignificant town on the West Bank two thousand years ago? Is it just sentimentality or is there anything of substance here, anything that we can hold on to to fill the holes in our hearts and lives? Has anything really changed as a result of Jesus’ birth? Peace on earth still seems like a distant dream.
But it is a dream. It is a persistent dream. It is a dream we share. Whether Jesus was born exactly as the story says or not, we have the dream. The dream of a new world where all beings are in right relationship to their Maker, where lion and lamb can lie down together and where humans are so open that we can hear the angels sing. Every Christmas the Christian and once-Christian world comes together to remember the dream.
And with the dream comes the promise. The promise that we don’t have to do it on our own. The promise that God is with us, the God became human and lived and died as one of us, but then rose again giving us the possibility of living without fear, of living with hope and the knowledge that the dream can become a reality, that the dream is becoming a reality, that the dream is becoming more real than the cold and fearful winter.
We can choose to believe the dream and the promise. That is the way of life. It’s not an easy path, anymore than Jesus’ path was easy, but it is the way that brings healing, that brings warmth and hope. Or we can choose to turn away, to remain cynical and independent and to live as though it really is midwinter. Which will you choose?
I hope that this Christmas you will invite the child who was born in the stable in the midwinter to be born anew in the wintry places of your soul and in the troubled places of our world. Because God waits. The God who made us, waits patiently for us. God does not force Godself on anyone but waits to be invited. When we invite God to live in and with us, and open ourselves to the fire of the Spirit’s transforming love, peace becomes a real possibility. We become part of making the dream real.
Let us not keep God waiting any longer.