Merry Christmas Season everyone! Here is my homily from this past Christmas Eve... with a little SNL thrown in.
A couple of years ago, there was a skit on Saturday Night Live that struck a nerve with people in my profession. The skit was entitled, "Saint Jospeh's Christmas Mass Spectacular." Filmed like a commercial for a Monster Truck Rally, the main point of the skit was describing what a drag it was to have to go back to church once a year with your parents for Christmas... and then encountering all of the various reasons they didn't go to church the rest of the year. There was the one parishioner whose got the really sweaty hand and wants to do the sign of peace. There was the priest who was telling lame jokes during a really boring homily. There was the lector who was taking her position just a little too seriously. The amount of crazy people encountered at church just went on and on. The subtext of this skit was that the experience of church—and the people who regularly went to church—were all just one big mess and why would anyone ever want to be part of such a thing?
So after the skit was broadcast, everyone I knew who worked for a church reacted to the SNL bit with a mixture of laughter and tears... because it was all true.
I mean, here at Saint Paul's we do try to do things well. Put a lot of energy into our music, our preaching, and into making people feel welcome. But you know what? We're still a mess. In fact, without exception, every church I have ever been a part of—either as a member or as “staff”—has been a mess. But what I've come to realize over the years is that church is a mess because—whether or not we happen to be religious—human beings are messes. All of us. Which is, perhaps, the real reason we all come together to celebrate this night.
Christmas is the time when we celebrate and give thanks that we have a God who is not only infinitely better than all of our messes, but that we have a God—maybe despite our messes, maybe even BECAUSE of our messes— who would still be willing to come down and live among us human beings. Christmas is the time when we most celebrate that we have a God who chooses to cast His lot with us human beings.
I sometimes wonder if the Holy Trinity ever had second thoughts before sending down the Son to live with us. I can imagine the Father and the Holy Spirit having a conversation with the Son before all of the events we sent into motion. "I know that we've been promising to send a Messiah for centuries now... but you know Jesus it's really a mess down there on earth. Those crazy human beings have to deal with sickness and betrayal and murder and broken hearts and prejudice. It's nice and cozy up here in heaven... are you sure you want to do this?" Just like so many of us ask why we would be part of church when it is such a mess... I can totally imagine God asking why he would want to be a part of messy humanity.
A few weeks ago, I was doing some shopping in Century City. I am not going to tell you the name of the store... all I will say is that they sell A LOT of containers. Over the speaker system, in between the non-stop loops of Bing Crosby, was a salesperson declaring, "Tis the Season for Warm Fuzzies." And while there are certainly reasons to partake of warm fuzzies this time of year, to reduce the whole season to that not only does God a disservice, but it does all of the rest of us a disservice as well. Especially when we reflect on the messiness that God chose to enter into when he decided to cast his lot with us on Christmas.
That truly is the Good News that we celebrate today, that we have a God whose chooses to cast His lot among us messy people... as a brother. As someone who has to go through all of the same messes we do in life. Yes, the warm fuzzies, but also heartbreak. Yes, hope but also despair. Joy but also death. In other words, our mess.
Which is part of the reason God needs us... because God needs us, both as individuals and as a community, to help Him clean up the mess! To visit the guilty prisoner. To acknowledge and take care of both the homeless person and the undocumented immigrant. To heal those who are both physically wounded and emotionally wounded. They are all around us and they are ourselves. And God know better than anyone that we cannot do this work alone. We need each other. We need community. Dare I say, we may even need messy church in order to help clean up our messy lives and this messy world.
So on this Christmas Eve, when God throws in his lot with us, we are all re-invited to cast our lot with God. No matter if life is leaving us warm and fuzzy... or dark and dreary, No matter how broken or together we are… or how messy, tonight we celebrate that we are all re-invited to throw our lot in with Emmanuel... God WITH us.
The Good News that we celebrate this Christmas Eve is that God lets us know... in the best way He can... that we are all in this mess together.