Historians have given the year of 1816 the title, “Year Without a Summer”. In New England that year, there was a persistent haze that filled the sky, which seemed to make the sun look dim. Snow storms persisted into July and temperatures fluctuated wildly from seasonably hot to freezing within just a day or two. Crops failed; food prices soared; and, it was part of the reason why some New England families left their farms to move to the new and open frontier of the Upper Midwest.
What those people in New England did not know, however. was that they were not alone in this strange weather. The same thing was happening in Northern Europe and in China. Weather patterns were disrupted worldwide that year and for a couple of years after. Of course, there was no Twitter or Facebook back then for people to realize the scope of the events that were happening to them.
It was not until fairly recently that scientists and historians realized that a huge volcanic eruption, the most powerful in 1,300 years, occurred in April, 1815 at Mount Tambora, Indonesia, disrupting weather worldwide for years. Those people in New England had neither the idea that an volcanic eruption, which began over a year before and on the other side of the planet, was affecting their lives so dramatically nor that their suffering connected them with others around the globe.
We are connected tonight, not by an eruption of ash and volcanic gases that dim the sun's light; rather, by an eruption of God's grace through the birth of the Word of God made flesh, who is the light shinning for all people. The temptation is, however, to really narrow our focus during Christmas and to forget the connections that Christ's birth makes between us and our world. Of course we know in our heads that Christmas is an historical moment in the world, but our focus tends to be much closer to home during Christmas.
All the advertizing blitz of the half-century has successfully planted the expectation in our society that Christmas is primarily a family centered holiday. Of course, being home with family is important and Christmas is a wonderful time to gather together. But in doing so we cannot forget that God is also gathering us into much larger community that stretches around the world and reaches throughout time.
Even as we look just at the recorded events of that first Christmas, we cannot escape how God through Jesus affected so many and gathered them from such diverse backgrounds. From Mary, far from home and very pregnant, to a simple carpenter named Joseph and to shepherds in the fields, they gathered along with the simple creatures of a a stable.
Later, from the lands far to the east, the mysterious Magi, watchers of the sky and the signs that the sky reveals, are lead to the stable by a star so that they may give honor and praise to a newborn king. Even King Herod is called and gathered towards Jesus birth; yet, he reacts not with faith but with the cowardly murder of innocent children in a vain attempt to stop God from being born with us.
And to this very night, the birth of this child is still affecting us and gathering us in ways of which we are often not aware. Here with us tonight are all the hopes and dreams of the prophets who gave their lives to give voice to truth and hope throughout the centuries. We are gathered with Christians in all parts of the world, many who are risking their lives to take a peak into that manager with us. But we are also gathered as the saints who have gone before us, as the pilgrims still with us and as the souls who will be here long after our time is gone – all gathered around this manager, by this one event, by this eruption of God's grace that gives light to the world.
For you see, Christmas is not about marking an historical event that is long past; it is not about remembering the birth of the Messiah, God with us, but experiencing it. Christmas, the birth of God in our midst, this eruption of God's grace, is happening now, even in our day. As we gather around Scripture and hear the story of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus, we are called from our everyday lives to adore the Christ child with those shepherds of long ago. When we recite the Nicene Creed together that promises us that Jesus is the light of the world who comes to judge the living and the dead, his light reveals the full tyranny of human sin and death as we witness Herod in his cowardice trying to deny God's love and grace by the murder of children. And when in the Words of Institution we hear the promise and invitation that in receiving his body and blood we are receiving the forgiveness of our sins, we ponder with Mary all of these things in our hearts and we are moved to explode with gratitude as did those Magi with their finest gifts. This is not history; it is our reality and it is our calling to bear witness to this explosion of grace that is entering and uniting the world in ways that are still being revealed.
But, what is being revealed is not always clear. Christ born into the world, the Word of God being born into each one of our lives, is not something that always comes free of conflict or pain. In fact, depending on the person and circumstances, the holidays can be times that seem to highlight our loneliness or that put further stress on family tensions. Jesus' presence may create conflict, angst, anger or even despair when his truth illuminates the reality of human sin and brokenness.
But for those struggling on this Christmas Eve, I challenge you to remember that whatever we are feeling at the moment, no matter how final our personal failures may seem to be, these things are not the reality about Christmas or about you. .
Christmas is about that eruption of God's grace that has not dimmed over the years, but continues to brighten. It is about God restoring that relationship with humankind throughout the world and throughout time by confronting sin and defeating it with the the embodiment of love and grace, Jesus, born through Mary's womb this night and through the cross that he must soon bear. It is about God restoring that relationship with you, with me, with us. It is about a faith given to us that allows us to believe even before we can see how our lives are connected with God and with each other by this ongoing event – this eruption of love and grace beyond measure who at this very minute is gathering and calling every one of us to step from darkness into his light.
No matter where you find yourself this night – whether in joy, despair or somewhere in between – I remind you of the reality that is God's love for you. I remind you of the erupting grace of God with us, Jesus Christ, who is affecting you in ways you may not perceive and who unites you with an eternal community. And if, in the present moment, the circumstances and failures of life are keeping you from seeing it, let us as people gathered right along with you, in all of our weaknesses and failures, believe for you and with you. Know that you are not alone, but that God's eruption of grace and love in Christ Jesus continues for your, for us, for all.