Christmas Eve 2011 Gospel: Luke 2:1-20 1st Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96 2nd Reading: Titus 2:11-14
Long ago, when God created the heavens and the earth he wanted all living things to be family. That’s why he made Eve from Adam’s rib. Adam got the idea. He said, “This one is at last flesh of my flesh.” There was relationship. There was family. And because God wanted Adam to regard all of creation as family, God allowed the first humans to name all the animals. That way humankind would learn to respect and love nature. To name something is to give it value. And humankind was charged with caring for the land and cultivating it and caring for it so that it would continue to thrive and support life, both human and animal. All the earth was created to be family.
But we soon forgot we were family. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake. Cain slew his brother Abel. Violence, jealousy, and hatred are part of our human story, too, as we well know and have experienced.
God tried everything to get us to understand that we are family. God brought foreigners into our midst to show us different points of view and that we are all loved in God’s eyes and have something of value to contribute. God sent messengers to remind the people of what was most important, prophets who threatened and promised and shared visions of what God really had in mind. God allowed the chosen people to be taken into captivity to show us how important it is to be family and then released them to start again on this quest to be family.
We just weren’t getting it.
So God decided to come down here and show us what it meant to be family. But first God needed to find a suitable family for the Christ child. God sent an angel to find the perfect family for his son.
The little angel was nervous. This was a big job, to find a good family for God to grow up in. The angel had never been part of a family, but he wanted to do his job well, so he went off to do some research and find out what family was.
First he came to a family of penguins huddling close in the cold. One penguin parent protected their young while their spouse took a long trip to find food and bring it back to them. The angel asked them, “What does family mean to you?” The penguins replied, “It means sharing responsibilities. We’d never make it if we didn’t share the work load, huddling to keep out the cold and taking turns going out to get food.” The angel was very impressed. As he watched, a penguin mate brought food for the family and the penguin that had remained, prepared to take the long journey to the edge of the ice where fish could be found. The angel thanked them for their help and went on his way. He would be sure to look for a family that shared responsibilities.
Next the angel came upon a family of monkeys high up in a rainforest canopy. They were swinging among the branches and making faces at one another. One had made himself a hat out of leaves and was showing off to the other monkeys. Another was trying to snatch that hat right off his head. The angel watched them for a few minutes and then asked them the same question, “What does family mean to you?” They answered, “Being playful! We all have work to do, food to gather, nits to pick off each other, danger to watch out for. But we always make time for play and laughter together. That’s what family is for.” The angel saw how much fun they were having and decided he would look for a family that knew how to be playful and have fun.
As the angel traveled, looking for just the right family, he came upon an ant hill. The ants were very busy traveling here and there, carrying bits of plant matter and food. The angel stopped to watch them, impressed with their industriousness. He said to them, “I’m looking for the ultimate family. What does family mean to you ants?” They said to him, without hesitation, “Working together! We are small and it might not seem that we can do much. But together we put away enough food for winter. We break down leaves and plants and carry them piece by piece to feed our colony. We fight off attackers many times our size—all because we work together.” The angel watched them a little longer scurrying this way and that. As the angel went on his way, he knew he would need to find a family that worked together.
As the angel traveled on, he came to a family of humans. One of the young ones kneeled in prayer at her bedside. The angel listened to her prayer. She thanked God for all her blessings. “Thank you for mom and dad and grandma and grandpa and Fluffy and Spot. Thank you for food and toys. Thank you for my teacher and for popsicles.” This really touched the angel. The angel decided that a grateful heart would be something that he would look for in a family for the Christ child.
When the angel returned to the heavens to share what he had learned, he told God that he had found many wonderful families and learned a great deal about what it meant to be a family. He wondered how God could possibly choose when there were so many great families on earth.
And when the angel went out into the night sky that Christmas Eve to sing, he was full of anticipation to see what family God chose. As he sang the words of praise at our Savior’s birth, “Glory to God in the heavens and on earth peace and goodwill to humankind,” he remembered the words of Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” And he heard the angel of the Lord say to the shepherds, “to you is born this day a Savior who is the Messiah.” And he saw the child among the cows, horses, people and sheep in the manger. And he saw the magi, still a long way off coming to worship the child. And he saw the hay cushioning the child and the bands of cloth wrapping him. And he knew that God had found the perfect family, that the child was for all of us, we are all his brothers and sisters, we are all children of God, we are all one family with each other, people of all kinds, and even plants and animals.
And because of that family relationship that we all have with each other, we share the responsibility with all people. We take offerings that benefit people throughout the world to help them through earthquakes and famines and natural disasters and we get together and make quilts or do service projects that benefit people in need. We stop and talk and laugh playfully with lonely widows in the store and wish them a Merry Christmas. We work together with people we barely know to feed the hungry bringing food to the blue barrel in the entryway and distribute it to our brothers and sisters close by. We give thanks for our blessings and live lives of thankfulness. Christmas is about God making us all family with God and with each other and living like family throughout the year.
This night is about God making us God’s family and us becoming family of each other in the process. It is like any family. There are disagreements. Some family members seem to have it all together while the black sheep still seem to cause trouble. There are know-it-alls and ne’er-do-wells. There those that are successful and those barely making it. There are those who are miserable and those that are happy. Whoever we are, we still need each other, we’ve all got something to offer, and we’re all the apple of our Father’s eye. So let’s take after our father and be generous and grateful and forgiving and show love to each other because that’s what it means to be family.