Once there were Christmases
with electric mornings,
as though all the lights on the tree
were plugged in to me,
and their low voltage woke me up
earlier than I would usually wake,
earlier than anyone needed to wake.
You remember those Christmas mornings, too.
They were childish and wonderful.
We had all been up too late –
to sing at the first thought
that Christmas was here
at the Midnight Mass.
And now we were awake again –
the children, anyway –
electrified with the promise
of bulging stockings
and wrapped-up possibilities
beneath the tree
that seemed to belong there,
in the living room.
Is it time or distance,
age or something else,
that dims the tingle
of those electric,
Have we grown up
only to believe
that the electricity of them
was truly generated by the stockings,
by the gifts wrapped in paper,
lying under the tree,
or the tiny stringed lights
that have only enough power to twinkle,
not to shine, and surely not enough
to wake a boy from his sleep?
Is this the wisdom we have grown up to learn
in the same way we learned
not to worry about Santa,
not to think him real,
not to believe in silly things?
Speaking for me, and for you, I can say
that time and distance have all grown longer,
age and everything else have all advanced.
Even the dimmest tingle –
a shiver up the spine,
pinpricks in your toes or fingers,
what hair you have left
alert on the back of you neck –
would be a welcome sign
of the kind of life
that seemed to lie before us
in our childhood.
What was the solemn age at which
the un-plugging of the Christmas tree
un-plugged something else,
inside of us,
access to some other light
that once we believed
shined in the darkness,
though the darkness comprehended it not.
Talk about darkness!
We have evolved
to see in the darkness,
because it surrounds us
day and night.
Do you need me to write up a catalogue
of the shades of darkness we live in?
War, greed, hatred, poverty, fear,
each with its own drop-down menu of options,
its own interactive map of dreadful reality.
It is the same catalogue
that humanity has published age after age:
the bright pages in there, too,
but so easily turned over,
so easily smudged by the blacker ink
of the cruel pages
we are not willing to stop publishing.
And it sometimes feels as though
we have made a quilt
of all the old catalogues of darkness,
and pulled it up over our heads,
as though this was a good idea,
as if this heat from things burning
could keep us warm,
and would not destroy us.
But there is a Christmas light
that has no electric cord,
no lithium ion battery,
no candle wick.
And though it arrives
in the person of a child,
it is not childish.
There is this light that lightens all people:
this light that shines in the darkness.
There is this light, generated by the Word
that was spoken once into darkness long ago.
And in this darkest time of a darkened year
when we remember that the Word was made flesh,
and we try to imagine what that means,
can we be still enough
and silent enough,
can we close our eyes tight enough,
can we reach out with everything we have –
even those tiny hairs on the backs of our necks –
to see if we can feel the pulse
of that magnificent alternating current,
as if made by the beat of angels’ wings,
that could surge through our bodies,
and into our hearts,
and deep in our minds,
and behind the fading retinas of our eyes;
as we receive the only true gift of Christmas?
Is there another electric morning or two
to be had by each of us?
You thought that you were born of blood;
you thought you were born of the will of the flesh;
you thought you were born of the will of man;
and this would account for the darkness,
would it not?
But you were not born of blood;
nor of the will of the flesh;
nor of the will of man,
but of God.
And he has given you power
to become his own child.
You may call him “Abba! Father!”
since you are no longer a slave to the dark,
but a child of the light;
and if a child, then an heir
to the throne of light
which lightens the whole world.
This is an electric morning!
Lightning struck last night,
and the ground still tingles.
Spread out your toes,
press your soles hard to the floor
and feel the residual power,
(you can feel it even through your shoes)
still buzzing through
whatever will conduct it.
This is an electric morning because
the Word was made flesh
in the beautiful simplicity of childhood,
the kind of childhood
that made it easier for us
to be electrified:
walking Christmas trees
of hope and promise.
This is an electric morning,
and you, who once thought
that only on your best days
could you even hope to twinkle,
(and who can see that your best days
are behind you)…
… you find that on a morning such as this -
an electric Christmas –
you can do better than twinkle,
now that the light is here,
this electric morning,
you can shine!
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
26 December 2010
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia