Right after Thanksgiving, the Christmas music started on the radio (And of course, we’ve been hearing it in the stores and shopping malls since Halloween!). I waited and I waited, but I never heard my favorite Christmas song.
The title is When Love Came Down. It was written in 1999 by a songwriter named Chris Eaton and performed by a Christian group called Point of Grace.
The chorus goes like this:
Close your eyes and share the dream
That everyone on Earth believe
A Child was born, the stars shown bright
And love came down at Christmas time
This year, in particular, this hymn was one that I needed to hear. This has been a year that has, at times, seemed punctuated by hatred and darkness. The headlines have been filled with scary stuff. The Associated Press recently reported the top news stories for this past year and it was a sobering list that included violent attacks in Iraq and Syria; terrorist attacks in Paris; mass shootings across the United States; and the shooting in Ferguson, MO. It has been said that what we fear, we create… and in the last year, human fear has created many things. Our world feared violence and violence was done. Our world feared difference and terrorism took center stage.
Tonight, though, offers us a different choice and a different direction, one that is defined by redemption. That Christmas song reminds us that we are celebrating that love has come into the world. We are remembering and lifting up that love took human form to make a powerful statement: Love is present in the world and love transforms the world. And, in the same spirit, we have to believe that we can create love in the world just as easily as we can give into fear.
In a volume titled “A Common Prayer,” included the following lines that sum it up:
There are only two feelings. Love and fear.
There are only two languages. Love and fear.
There are only two activities. Love and fear.
There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results. Love and fear. Love and fear.
In reality, we cannot hold both of love and fear simultaneously: if we choose love, then fear is vanquished. That is the heart of the Christmas story. Mary chose love over fear and agreed to give birth to God’s dream for the world. Joseph chose love over fear and became an abiding and protective presence for Mary and her child. The shepherds, in the face of awe-inspiring angels, moved toward the miracle in love rather than running away in fear.
Love coming into the world doesn’t look like what the world tells us it will look like. It looks much different. We have to listen for it—the way the shepherd’s listened to the voices of the angels. We have look for it, the way that all of Bethlehem turned toward the newly-minted star that shone brightly in the night sky. We have to accept it into our hearts the way Mary did saying to the Angel “Let it be unto me as you have said, Lord.” That’s when the love begins in earnest.
It comes in the small moments and choices that we make each day, about whether to be afraid or to see potential for love. When we can see past fear and difference, it changes us and it changes the world. Let me share just one example.
Not too long ago, I walked into a local coffee house in search of a cup of coffee. The first person I saw, the barista. He had dreadlocks stretching down his back, and tattoos up and down his arms and as he turned, I saw a giant tattoo of a roaring lion that covered his entire throat. Immediately, I made judgement…that this was a scary guy.
Then I took a closer look and realized that he was singing to himself…to the tune of the nursery school song “I’m a little tea pot.” He’d made up his own words, something along the lines of “I’m a little latte, hot and strong…” and when he saw me, he smiled. I felt my judgement change, and I considered that this was perhaps not such a scary guy.
And so, instead of just paying for my coffee and leaving without a word, we talked a little. As I ordered my sugar free, decaf non fat mocha, I joked that it should be called a “Why bother l?” Then added that I really like the way the sugar free chocolate tastes. Then, he looked at me closely and said “I got it wrong last week, didn’t I? I’m sorry.” In fact, he had… and then we talked more, about prayer and about hearing God’s voice. He said that God always answered his prayers in unexpected ways—he had prayed for humility the week before and had the hardest work day of his life, with customer after customer complaining.
Then, I asked him about one of his tattoos—a scripture verse reference. He recited the verse from memory: “In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” and then he grinned… “You know, on my day of becoming humble, my last customer of the day saw this and leaned over and whispered to me “I put my trust in God too!”
If I had followed my first instincts about this man, I certainly would be poorerI would have missed a compelling witness of God’s presence—his witness helped me to see the love in our world.
Christmas is a reminder that love comes into the world in small ways. A child was born, the stars shone bright, and love came down at Christmas time…. that is my song. As Christians, we affirm that even the smallest point of light will overcome the deepest darkness. We build our lives on the knowledge that the most tender and vulnerable of loves can overcome the most powerful forms of hatred.
In this Christmas season, and beyond, let our hearts be open to love, peace, and grace. Let us welcome the innocent and vulnerable, knowing that love comes into the world in these unlikely forms. Let us trust as Mary and Joseph trusted. Let us listen and follow in trust as the shepherds did. Let us look for the light that points to Gods presence in our world. Let us spend each and every day affirming that we choose not to live in fear. Indeed, we will choose love.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at the Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos, CA, on December 24th, 2015.