This has been a difficult season for many of us.
Illness… unemployment… separation from loved ones…
broken relationships… unmet hopes and expectations…
events that have divided our homes, families, communities and country…
loneliness and isolation…
the death of a friend or family member…
the loss of a pregnancy…
war in our world… fear for our future.
Any of these by themselves can be overwhelming, and so we put our heads down and carry on,
numbing ourselves to our own most intimate feelings.
We busy ourselves with this task or that.
Or we isolate and keep our grief, fear, frustration, disappointment and despair to ourselves.
When we share our struggles with others, we feel like a burden, an ingrate, or a Scrooge.
Where do we find room for our humanity?
For our vulnerability?
For the complexity of our experience?
All too often, we think of the Christmas story as one of great joy and excitement, forgetting that it is the story of a young girl, unwed and pregnant.
It is the story of a carpenter whose betrothed gets pregnant, and not with his child.
It is the story of a baby born in a barn surrounded by the smell of animals and the bodily fluids of birth – no doctors, nurses, midwives or even beloved family matriarch to oversee the birth, to cut the umbilical cord, to wrap the new-born up or to offer rest to the weary mother or hapless father.
It is the story of refugees, fleeing from a murderous monarch slaughtering baby boys.
The likes of this story today are not to be found in the comforts of a starry sanctuary, or in the sparkle of a busy mall, or even in the warmth of a private hospital birthing room.
No, they are instead to be found in Aleppo, at Standing Rock, in the Rust Belt, in homeless shelters [insert relevant current concerns] and yes, in our own homes and in those painful recesses of our own stories,
In our own pain.
There is room in our Christmas story for fear, disappointment, sorrow and despair.
During Advent, we light the candles of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.
These candles remind us of God’s gifts to us – gifts that we celebrate not because we already have them, but because we and our world so desperately need them.
We need Hope to meet our despair.
We need Love to meet our disappointment, frustration and loneliness.
We need Joy to meet our grief and sorrow.
We need Peace to meet our poor health, our anger, and our fear.
And we need a place where we can simply be:
Be with our own pain and suffering and know that we are not alone, that God is with us.
Tonight, we remember that God came into the world
amidst violence, oppression, and despair
and brought forth life from that darkness.
Tonight, we remember that God is with each one of us
in our challenges and suffering.
We remember that God has brought life to the world, and that life is the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.