He leaves the best messages. I am referring to my friend and colleague Terry Nelson-Johnson who we are so incredibly blessed to have with us on the staff of Old St. Patrick’s Church. Besides his great humor, his prophetic preaching, his outrageous talents in writing and story-telling and the list goes on, Terry is just a very kind, thoughtful human being. He is so dedicated to Old St. Pat’s and his passion lies in what he frequently calls: “doing good church.” Often I will retrieve messages from my phone, only to find one from Terry, recorded most times late into the evening. His messages are always supportive, expressing gratitude for something Grace-filled that thankfully has gone well.
A couple of weeks ago, Terry left one of his messages and at the end of the recording he said something like this: thank you for allowing me to be a part of a church that celebrates Christmas as a lived reality and not merely an historical event. I told you he is good! I invite you to stay with those words of Terry for awhile: Christmas as a lived reality, not merely an historical event.
It is probably true to say that many of us approach Christmas every year as remembering the events of 2,000 years ago and the unusual way in which God entered the world through the birth of Jesus. And while the “events” of this Incarnation shape a lot of what we believe in our faith tradition, somehow I imagine that God is probably saying to God’s-self every year: don’t just keep looking to the past; look around at what’s happening right under your nose! Make me present today!
Do not get me wrong: I am a big fan of Manger scenes, Christmas trees, and those wonderfully familiar songs that keep us humming throughout the season. St. Francis came up with the idea of the manger and used the crèche as a way of explaining the events of history — smart move. The sacred sounds of Christmas hymns sung throughout the ages often refer to this moment of tremendous Grace that came upon the world on that O Holy Night — yes. But what does all of this have to do with our lives today? Where do we see and how do we make present this lived reality of Christmas? How do we not just leave it as our annual observation of something historical, but rather celebrate it as a Christmas truth that is alive?
Another colleague and friend on the Old St. Pat’s team whose dedication is second-to-none is Beth Marek. Beth directs our Outreach efforts and helps so many of our members live out their faith through involvement with many of our local and global partners. Beth informed me the other day that through the generosity of the members of Old St. Pat’s—the lived reality of Christmas—we collected more than 4,000 gifts and/or donations for those in need. I walked down to the hall on Sunday evening, December 11 and witnessed all the donations being wrapped ever so graciously by the people of this church so they could be delivered to their respective recipients. That is Christmas. That is where God’s presence is a lived reality, not merely an historical event!
I have been privileged to journey with some young couples these past few weeks as they celebrated the births of their first daughters. Unfortunately, for both couples, the births came with some significant challenges that will have long-term physical and developmental effects for both girls. While I have seen the obvious disappointment and sadness on the faces and hearts of young adult parents whose marriage vows I have witnessed, I have also experienced in these recent days a tremendous maturity, strength, courage, and some outrageous forms of love being poured forth from new parents to their babies. Bringing forth love into the world and into the heart of another human being; isn’t that what the lived reality of Christmas is all about? Watching some young dads especially “rise to the occasion” and really be that “strength” for the brides they love immeasurably, isn’t that story of the historic Joseph being lived out today in our midst?
I think Terry is correct. Christmas is that lived reality which happens all around us.
We are absolutely delighted and grateful for all who found their way to Old St. Pat’s today. Thank you so very much for choosing to be here at on this Christmas Day. Thank you for “incarnating” and making present the very goodness of God in our midst today and all throughout the year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all of you.
Fr. Tom Hurley