Coming Through the Door – Christmas 2015
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland
Once again I had to go looking for my Christmas sermon. It wasn’t lost, and I hadn’t misplaced it; I just didn’t know where to find it. For nearly thirty years my sermon search has become part of my holiday tradition. In Christmases past, I’ve found it in a men’s shelter, at a Macy’s Department Store, on a street corner, and in a favorite book of poetry. This year my search was made even more complicated because my shelves of Christmas sermon inspiration are in cartons piled deep in a storage facility along with all the rest of our belongings as we await our new home to be finished.
So where did I find my Christmas sermon this year? I found it in the deepest well of wisdom I could access – the café at Judson Manor, the retirement community where we’ve been squatting for the last six months. For a boomer who’s crossed the threshold of sixty and wants to stay forever young, it’s been an amazing privilege to live among my elders and to learn about spirituality, faith, community, life and death from the perspective of what theologian Kathleen Fischer coined “winter grace” and historian Will Durant calls “fallen leaves.”
Wisdom is a wonderful gift of aging. Our elders often see and appreciate the wonders of life that the rest of us are too busy and distracted to notice. The biblical characters Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna saw and spoke the truth about Jesus long before anyone else took notice.
Sitting at lunch with my older companions, I asked: what shall I preach on Christmas Eve? “Talk about hope…Speak of love…Raise up the refugee crisis…Challenge them about commercialism…Warn them of climate change…Teach them the importance of family…Preach about peace…” It was interesting that none of my table mates mentioned salvation, redemption, incarnation or any of the theological words typically associated with Christmas. The conversation continued. Finally, an Episcopalian whose ancestors were among the earliest members of Trinity, chimed in: “I’ve got a sermon title for you,” he said. “What’s that,” I asked. “Coming Through the Door,” he answered with a smile.
At first, I thought that he was kidding, because all I could conjure up was Santa Claus coming down the chimney. But after a night of restless contemplation (otherwise known as sermon panic), I concluded that coming through the door is an apt metaphor for Christmas.
Consider all of the comings and goings at Christmas: wide-eyed children running through the doors of gingerbread houses, college students bounding across the threshold of childhood homes, parents walking into the houses of their grown children, and families parading through the doors of retirement communities and nursing homes to visit grandparents. Christmas is a season when people rush through the doors of department stores, malls, airports and train stations. It’s a holiday when those who are down on their luck stagger through the doors of food pantries, clothing closets and toy giveaways in search of holiday sustenance and cheer, looking for some stranger’s charity. And yes, it’s a time when refugees around the world stand in lines outside of resettlement agencies, Red Cross shelters, detention centers, consulates, and embassies, waiting in hope to walk through some door to freedom, safety and security. Christmas is also a day when individuals – young and old; alone or in the company of others; believers, doubters and seekers alike – venture through the doors of churches rarely visited the rest of the year. Through all of these doors, people enter with a sense of hope: hope that the right present will be found, the plane or train will be on time, the visit won’t become a disappointment, charity will be bestowed, entrance will be granted, a relationship will be refreshed, strengthened and maybe even mended, and faith will be discovered or renewed.
Hope comes through the door at Christmas. The people who walked in darkness hoped for light, and those who were oppressed hoped for a savior. The angel Gabriel hoped that Mary would say “yes” to God’s special invitation. Mary hoped that her fiance would understand. Joseph hoped he could provide for Mary and her baby. The innkeeper hoped that this young couple wouldn’t make too much of a mess of the stable, or get him and his family in trouble. The animals in the barn hoped that they might get some sleep that night. The shepherds hoped that if they followed the star, they would see this thing that had taken place. Leaving the comfort of their homes, the magi hoped that their journey would not be in vain. And watching from a distance, the Eternal One hoped that someone would pay attention and that this effort to come through the door of heaven to earth as one of us would be worth all the time and trouble.
Shortly after Jesus was born, life got dangerously complicated as the Christmas drama continued, when King Herod sought to kill this newborn child, forcing his family to flee into exile and join the long historic march of refugees and displaced people. I wonder how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were received in Egypt so long ago, and how they would be received today if they showed up at one of our border crossings, in an immigration court, or in an airport security line.
Like the great doors of this cathedral that are open to the public each and every day, hope gets battered by the forces of life. When the MRI shows that the cancer has returned, when the mailbox holds a rejection letter, when the exam results aren’t good enough, when the engagement ring is returned, when the life raft springs a leak, or when the door shuts in our face, hope is challenged, sometimes to its very core. That’s why hope truly is when you muster the will to go ahead without it.
Like love, hope is a commitment to keep on going – come hell or high water. Like love, hope is a decision to forge into the future without guarantees – no matter how dark and dismal the future might seem. Like love, hope is the belief that there will be another door, that it will open, and that good news will come through it.
Life is filled with all kinds of doors of hope – large and small, open and closed, welcoming and foreboding. Our willingness to knock on those doors, open them, walk through them, and receive with generous welcome others who knock is what makes Christmas a living reality.
In her book entitled, Be the Miracle, Regina Brett (my upcoming guest at our January 3 Sunday Forum), tells a story about a young man she met in a local ice cream parlor. Terrence wanted to be a neurosurgeon. He had been a student at Hawken, but due to family circumstances, he was forced to drop out. Regina took it upon herself to call Hawken and help get him reinstated, but then she went one more step. She introduced Terrence to a neurosurgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who invited him to watch a brain surgery. Regina came through the door of this young man’s life, and with curiosity, compassion and conviction, she brought the love and hope of Christ into his life.
Reinhold Niebuhr used to say that, “The ultimate form of hope is prayer.” My prayer this Christmas is that as we face an uncertain future, we may continue to hope and believe that love, peace, and joy will come through the door of our hearts, our homes and our lives; and that each one of us will have the curiosity, compassion, and courage to open for others the door that brings heaven to earth. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, and may the God of love grant you a blessed Christmas and hope-filled New Year.