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“Christmas is the sound of chaos. It is the sound of hearts breaking and prison doors bursting. Christmas was not a silent night. It was full of the sound that terrified the shepherds… The sound through which God sings, ‘You are not alone.'”

Sermon by Mike Kinman at All Saints Church, Pasadena, at the 8:00 p.m. Festive Eucharist on Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24, 2017.

 

It was not a silent night. All was not calm. All was not bright.

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There is a sound to Christmas. It is not the sweet sound of angels singing or the silent whisper of snowflakes landing on the ground. It is not the bray of the donkey or the gentle footfalls of shepherds.

There is a sound to Christmas. And if it sounds like anything, it sounds like this:

(Orchestra tunes for a few seconds)

There is a sound to Christmas and it is the sound of chaos. It is the sound of unpredictability and messiness, of confusion and risk. It is the glory of God that terrified the shepherds. It is the cacophony that says something is about to happen, something beautiful, something wonderful, something transcendent, but first there is this sound.

(Orchestra tunes for a few seconds)

Does that sound strange? Or does it feel more right than you can possibly imagine?

We are told the sound of Christmas is the sweet refrain of Silent Night, and yet for so many of us there is this gap between that chorus and what we are actually feeling. The hope is real and yet we cannot escape the feeling that it is more aspiration than reality. That if Christmas is supposed to sound like that, what could Christmas have to do with my life … right here, right now?

Because our lives are not scored by Silent Night – or if they are it is too often the silence of loneliness not the silence of peace. Too often our lives are the empty seat at the dinner table and the side of the bed that is always made. They are chemotherapy and MRIs. Tax cuts for the wealthy and no rooms or inns for the poor. Too often our lives seem much more about anxiety and shame than any dawn of redeeming grace, and we can’t remember the last time we slept in heavenly peace.

There is a chaos to our lives, and that’s where Jesus is born and that’s where Jesus lives. Not apart from it, watching it from a safe distance. But in its cacophonous heart. Christmas is God diving deep into the chaos of our lives, holding our hand and saying to the chaos:

“Bring. It. On.”

A God who became human in this child is a God who doesn’t run away from the pain and chaos of our lives but shares it, feels it, lives with us in it. A God who became human in this child doesn’t want the cleaned-up version of us. God wants the messy version. The Not Safe For Work version. The profane version. The real version.

There was nothing peaceful, calm or mild about Christmas. It was a birth like every other birth. With all the urine, blood, and feces; mucus, vernix and amniotic fluid. It was a birth like every other, where fear and hope, agony and ecstasy meet. It was not harmonious. It was the chaos and cacophony that comes before something wonderful. Mary was not sweetly glowing. She was pushing and screaming and swearing, and she would be the first not only to testify that Christmas was not a silent night but I’m sure to have a few choice words about that “little Lord Jesus no crying he makes” nonsense.

Christmas was not a silent night. And that is our hope. Because a God who is some utopian escape from the chaos is no God at all, or at least not a God I’m interested in. The God who is our hope is the God who dives right into the middle of the chaos. Who says, “You are not alone. We got this … together.” Who hears what we are tempted to fear and says “you hear that sound? That sound that terrified the shepherds? That sound of chaos? That sound of hearts breaking? That means something wonderful is about to happen.

“Something courageous and spectacular and wonderful is always about to happen.”

Sojourner Truth said “religion without humanity is very poor human stuff” – and yet when we sanitize Christmas that’s exactly what we are offering. When we sanitize Christmas, we sanitize God. We separate God from the mother’s cry and from the young person’s scream at injustice. When we sanitize Christmas, we preach a false Gospel of a God who is apart from the struggle rather than the God who is in the struggle, a God who is the struggle. A God who knows that being in the struggle together is where the deepest joy is to be found for us all.

Kelly Brown Douglas reminds us that “God speaks to us as a dynamic, restless force in our world.” And that means not only is God unafraid of entering into the chaos of our lives but that being Christmas people is about being dynamically, restlessly, boldly unafraid of being the same in each other’s lives.

Because a God who became human in this child is a God who not only doesn’t want to run away from our pain but bids us run toward one another’s pain as well. Bids us to share it, to feel it, to be with each other in it. To not remain orderly and respectable and apart but to dive deep into the chaos of each other’s lives and say:

“Bring. It. On.”

On Wednesday evening, about 50 of us stood outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles. It was the end of a posada – a re-enactment of the journey to Bethlehem we remember this night. The forced journey that los peregrinos Jose and Maria took when Emperor Augustus decreed they be ripped from their homes and told to go back from where they had come and away from where they had built their lives.

We stood at the gate from which the buses depart that take our undocumented siblings who have been snatched up by ICE on their own forced journey to Adelanto Detention Center, a for-profit, privately operated federal prison that generates money for the wealthy off the misery of those whose labor we use but whose humanity we scorn. A prison that is often the last stop before deportation. A prison that proclaims there is no room in the inn of America for Jose and Maria today.

And while we stood there telling the story and singing the songs of posada, we looked down into the garage and saw guards arrive and a line of people, shoulders slumped, slowly boarding one of the buses. Immediately we began to shout down at them.

No están solos.
No están solos.

You are not alone.
You are not alone.

A few raised their fist in acknowledgment as they continued to board the bus. As they disappeared inside, we continued our liturgy. A few minutes later more arrived and began to board, and our chants began again.

No están solos.
No están solos.

Again, some acknowledgment as they boarded the bus … and disappeared.

Eventually we could see the guards gather to discuss what they were going to do as we were blocking the driveway they were planning on using. Eventually, they started up the bus, backed up and headed toward another exit. A couple of us made our way around the building and stood by as the bus exited again chanting

No están solos.
No están solos.

Some hands waved against windows. And as the bus drove past us into the night toward Adelanto, we turned and walked away.

Despite how powerful and moving and well-meaning our posada was, it occurred to me as we walked into that night, we had done exactly what God on Christmas night had refused to do.

In the midst of the chaos of the lives of those who were being loaded on that bus. In the midst of the uncertainty of what was going to happen to them, what was going to become of their families, we had remained orderly and respectable – and apart. We had watched from a distance, telling them they were not alone and perhaps giving them some comfort from those words that in the future someone might actually do something to help them, but we had not, in fact, done anything to enter into their chaos with them. Despite our chanting, we had stayed silent that night.

As I thought about the words we chanted

No están solos.
No están solos.
No están solos.

I realized that was what God did in Jesus this night not just in word but in deed. God refused to stay behind the barricade just saying the words “No están solos” but instead entered into the chaos – not just saying “You are not alone” but actually being with us as one of us — because that is what love looks like. Because that is where the joy is.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would write more than two millennia later, as imitators of God in Jesus, we are not simply to offer words of comfort. “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Christmas reminds us that work can never be done from outside the blast zone. That work can never be done from a safe distance. That work can never be done while maintaining order and respectability. Christmas reminds us that work is as messy and chaotic and risky as birth and life itself. And it is scored not by Silent Night in sweet four-part harmony but by the sound that terrified the shepherds. The sound of chaos. The sound of hearts breaking. The sound that means something wonderful is about to happen. That something courageous and spectacular and wonderful is about to happen.

What could that have been that night? How could we have truly followed Jesus that night and been incarnational lovers of those lonely peregrinos?

Maybe it would have looked like surrounding the bus and not letting it move. Or maybe, if we really had allowed ourselves to be permeated with the spirit of Christmas it would have meant us streaming over the barricade and boarding the bus with those peregrinos. Insisting that we, too, be taken to Adelanto. Filling that prison so there was no more room to take even one more beautiful child of God who just wanted to stay here and live and work and be. Saying not just with our lips but with our lives that if you were going to deport some of us you were going to have to deport us all.

That would have been a true posada.

That would have been finally making room at the inn for Jose and Maria and the Christ.

That would have been Joy to the World, every heart preparing Christ room, and heaven and heaven and nature sing.

Christmas was not a silent night. All was not calm. All was not bright. There is a chaos to our lives, and that’s where Jesus is born. Not watching it from a safe distance, but in its cacophonous heart.

Christmas is God diving deep into that chaos and not just saying but living the words

“No están solos.”
“Bring. It. On.”
“You and me, we got this .. together.”

Christmas is God refusing to remain orderly and respectable and apart from us and Christmas is us refusing to remain orderly and respectable and apart from each other.

Christmas is the sound of chaos. It is the sound of hearts breaking and prison doors bursting. Christmas was not a silent night. It was full of the sound that terrified the shepherds. The sound of the glory of God. The sound through which God sings you are not alone. The sound through which God promises that in us and with us, for us and through us, something courageous and spectacular and wonderful is about to happen. Amen.