“Christmas Eve Reflection” by Joe Ellis – December 24, 2022
I’d like to read you a note I received from my mom a little over fifteen years ago. At the time I was a student in Vancouver, looking forward to coming home to Alaska for Christmas break. Mom was also looking forward to our time together, she wrote:
“I’m starting to get ready for Christmas! I made 5 dozen batches of cookies yesterday. Yum! It will be so fun to see you when you come! I’ll be at the airport with a huge smile. Start thinking about your Christmas list!!! I’m bringing my Christmas Dishes out today! That’s fun too. It’s cold outside, -20 to 25 degrees, with a huge wind chill. Dad keeps the fire going for me. I love you. Mom.”
That note captures so much of what was dearly precious about my Mom. This last March my family said goodbye to her at the end of her battle with cancer. For my Dad, my brother, my sister, our spouses, and all mom’s grandkids — this is our first Christmas without her warming presence.
I know that I’m not the only one here this evening mindful of someone who isn’t here to sit alongside. And sometimes when people talk about their own memories of the person they are grieving, you begin thinking of your own similar stores. I wonder if, as I read my mom’s note, you began remembering your own loved ones who aren’t here with you tonight. Maybe as I talked about my mom’s smile, you remembered how your own mom used to smile? Or maybe you remembered your niece’s laugh? Or maybe your grandma’s warm kindness? Or your cousin’s strength? Your grandpa’s wry sense of humour? Your dad’s dependability? Your son’s way of welcoming people in? Maybe you are beginning to remember some of their attributes that are less likeable, perhaps painful? The people we love, for good and hard, shape our life deeply and can deeply shape our experience of Christmas. Their absence almost can’t be expressed in words, sometimes it can only be felt.
We’ve been hearing stories this evening— not of our loved ones — but stories surrounding the birth of Christ. We’ve heard these sort of words and phrases over and over: “Salvation is near.” “Those who are longing await his appearing.” “Life was in Him.” “The true light, which gives light to every human being, was coming into the world.” “His name means, ‘God with us.” “King Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. “Today a Saviour has been born for you.”
These words and phrases are suggestive of something, someone, deeply significant and deeply powerful at work. These words and phrases rise to us out of a story, an old story, a story of God’s coming into this world — coming as a little baby. At Christmas, we rehearse that wondrous story of how salvation was born. Now, this Salvation is not simply a theological category, something to be understood through studying and memorizing definitions found in a textbooks. Those definitions can certainly give us an idea of the Salvation that was born for us on Christmas, yet to truly understand this Salvation that was born for us, we need to be present to the grief, the pain, the sadness, and the wreckage that we carry into Christmas.
Our Salvation is found in those things played out in reverse. Picture a car accident going backwards, the car healing itself and its passengers becoming whole once again. Picture the tumours shrinking rapidly, mysteriously, and muscle, skin and flesh becoming beautifully whole. Picture the drug pulled out of their body and the addiction and pain finding themselves replaced with good health. Salvation is a particular pain lifted. Salvation is a specific sadness carried into joy. Salvation is standing in front of the wreckage that you can touch, and finding it put back together and made suddenly new. Reunion with your son and his smile; Reunion with your niece and her laugh; your grandma and her kindness; your cousin; your grandpa; your dad; your mom; your beloved; your friend. This is the salvation born for us, and yet it is more. Salvation is re-union with our Saviour and Our God, our beloved Jesus. He came to heal all, to restore all, to make all things new. So every Christmas we come together and remember that salvation has been born, and anticipate that salvation is coming. For Jesus’ birth points to his death, and his death was overcome through his resurrection. What was true for him, will be true for us. Through his resurrection, death has been defeated, and we shall one day rise with Jesus at His return. It was for this that our tender Father sent His precious, precious Son so that we may have life together with Him forever and ever.
Now there is darkness around us, but soon we shall dispel it away. As we do so, let the act for you be a sort of prophetic resistance to the darkness. Let the candle lighting be a Gospel proclamation. A declaration that the darkness that is here now shall flee with the approaching Son. What is dark now, what is cold now, shall will soon be transformed into light and warmth with the light of Christ. Our salvation has been born. So, let’s light one another’s candle as a blessing, a declaration of the coming promise.