Time seems rigid; it marches us forward and waits for no one. It ticks away years off lives, and carves our pasts in stone. Tonight we celebrate that Christmas doesn’t adhere to the rules of time. Time turns to liquid in Christmas’ presence. It becomes merely a fluid concept through which we can travel. All at once we can be carried back two thousand years to the story of the birth of Jesus and then in the next breath we can remember a Christmas from childhood, or wonder about what tomorrow will hold. It is a powerful spirit that can break open time and offer it to us like a soothing hot tea. When we drink from it we move into the space where the temporal and eternal kiss and believe things we spend our days questioning. When we taste the Christmas spirit we can imagine a peaceable future, a reconciled past, and present filled with the gift of hope. Last week in the circle at Thistle Farms the spirit of Christmas settled into the room. We had outpaced all internet sales, had raised enough money to open the new cafe to welcome 7 new employees, had hosted under Carole’s leadership 51 events, and watched Latisha, who works in shipping, drive up in what she calls her first, “legal car”. So 50 of us gathered like we do every week and immediately the tears flowed. Time was set aside in that space to make room for a spirit that held us captive. Women, without prompting or rehearsal, recalled Christmases past spent on the streets looking for money and eating White Castles out of hotel rooms rented by the hour. Women remembered childhoods of visiting their moms in prison, or grieving having no memories of Christmas at all. Women wept as they grieved relatives and friends they had lost or who were sick this Christmas. Then a woman talked about celebrating the birth of Jesus for the first time in her life. The conversation moved freely into comments about Christmas present and the joy of being in community. In that circle we traveled through Christmas seasons with each other, not boxed in by time but moving through memory and hope.
The story of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke begins this way. He sets the time and place. The emperor Cesar Augustus in 4AD called for a census. Quirinius was governor of Syria. Into that un-peaceful occupied nation burdened with the same themes of suffering and politicizing that we know, the story begins. It begins by rooting the birth in the stump of Jesse. It seems like into this space the people will need a militaristic messiah who can fight against all the injustices. But even as Joseph and Mary entered Bethlehem and had a baby, the birth broke through it all like an angel. Into that particular time and location where the violence of poverty called Mary and Joseph to birth in a barn, Love, manifested in the Christ Child burst forth and shattered time and space. Suddenly Angels sing from dark nights. When we taste the eternal present in our midst, our hearts stir and we rip open the box we have been held by. Inside is the vision of Isaiah that promises the yoke of burden and the rod of the oppressor are broken and the boots of the tramping warriors will be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has come to break through all time and space, and he is named wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. When time is torn asunder in the presence of love all the other mythical absolutes that we are bound by are shattered. We are allowed to dream timeless dreams and speak of peace and hope. We are welcomed into a new space where “then” and “when” turn simply into “here and now”. And it will be this way forever.
So the gift is offered to you and to me this night. We are given the gift of standing together, the homeless and cosseted, the wounded and innocent, the cynical and guileless, and work towards women's freedom and healing from the oldest wounds this world has known. Accepting the gift means that the Christmas spirit lives in us and tomorrow is already here. Whether we grieve or shout for joy in this moment; whether we are run ragged by solitude or family; whether we believe it all or not; the gift is given to us.