Readings Isaiah 26:16-19 and Luke 2:1-20
Image, Stone Nativity by Juan Manuel Cisneros, Ventura, California, December 2016
Earlier in the month I was listening to a discussion on the radio about which not-explicitly-Christmas-music, do people nonetheless associate with Christmas. Time and again listeners justified their choices not by appealing to the content of the song, but because, to them, the song felt like the feeling of Christmas.
Christmas is a deeply feeling holiday. We have a sense of the temperature Christmas ought to feel. The feelings evoked by Christmas lights, shopping, and foods. The feelings of being with a particular group of people. We know the feeling of coming to church on Christmas, both like and unlike a service on any other Sunday. That Christmas is such a feeling holiday is what makes it all the harder, when things feel different. When those dear to us have departed, or our table needs a more modest setting, or time together grows increasingly sparse.
And while the feelings of Christmas unsurprisingly result from the startling connection of sense and memory, the gospel accounts are themselves full of feeling. The shepherds were fearful on a fearful scale before hearing the good news of great joy. And everyone is amazed by their account. Even before this, the story of Joseph and Mary being forced by bureaucratic whim to uproot their lives has a certain feeling known to those who spent a morning at Services NSW. So too the feeling of Mary placing her swaddled child in a feeding trough, because there was no other place is comprehensible to all who have held or beheld a tiny new-born and all of a sudden gasped at how large the world feels.
At its heart though, Christmas is centred on feeling because we feel like we need Christmas. We walk into Christmas through the season of Advent, honouring the woe of our world while lighting candles for hope, peace, joy, and love. If our hearts are stirred by the good news of great joy, it because we yearn for good news! Because we feel that the restoration of the world requires nothing short of the impossible arrival of the God with us and for us.
In this way we share much with those in Isaiah’s day, who are likened to expectant mothers, writhing-in-labour and crying for deliverance but who cannot bring it about on their own. We feel their honest to God yearning for the radiant dew which brings new life, their palpable hope that those who dwell in the dust will, Awake and sing for joy!
So when the expectant mother, writhing-in-labour in a borrowed room, brings forth Emmanuel we are more than ready to receive good news of great joy. For the scent of the morning dew no less than the sound of the heavenly choir blows the dust off and proclaims a saviour has been born. At Christmas we awake and sing, joyful and triumphant, pushing ourselves into the story to greet the child born then in Bethlehem and today in our hearts.
Christmas is brimming with feeling because in this story (both familiar and strange) we get the sense that something is answered. As the song teaches, he appeared, and the soul felt its worth. The disquiet we feel about the state of the world and the hope we hold for its restoration, finds its response in the vulnerable infant swaddled in a feeding trough. Here lies love: love incarnate, love divine, love to shake and shatter sin. Let us open our hearts to the feeling of Christmas and may it transform us day by day into those ready to rise and meet a weary and worried world with peace, hope, joy, and love.
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