A homily preached on Christmas Eve 2021 at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle, Washington
When I was six years old, I came home from church on Christmas Eve, made my little brother put on his bathrobe, plopped a dish towel on top of his head, and brought him into the living room, where I draped a lacy crocheted afghan over my own head and shoulders, tightly swaddled my doll Tabitha in a flannel receiving blanket, and directed my first nativity pageant. The story we tell every year on this night, the one that so vividly lives in our hearts and imaginations, is about the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph and Jesus, but it is also deeply and truly, a story about us.
You may know the story of the day you were born. You may hold the story of the birth of your child, or a sibling. When you were born, stars danced and angels sang. Every birth is a miracle, and every child is holy. How do I know? Let me tell you another story:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters… And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
The very first thing that God spoke into being was light. And in this story, every time God makes something, God looks at it and calls it good. God creates us—humans—in God’s own image and calls us good. We carry within us the light of our creator. We are light bearers, all of us.
During the Christmas pageant at Saint Mark’s, when we get to the part where Jesus is born, the manger glows. Mary and Joseph wear golden haloes that catch and reflect the light. Here’s a secret about Baby Marilee, who played Jesus on Tuesday night: she glows, too. And so does her sister Esmé, and so do her parents, who played Mary and Joseph. So do you.
Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes just like I swaddled my doll, just like my mother swaddled my brother and me, because babies love to be swaddled, they are calmed and soothed by the snugness of the cloth wrapped around them. There was no room for them in the inn because the busy inn was no place to deliver a baby. Mary needed privacy, quiet and warmth, perhaps in the room on the ground floor, where the most important animals—the cow, the ox, and the donkey—would be brought in at night for safekeeping. The manger may have been a hollow in the floor, with fresh, sweet-smelling hay, the perfect spot for a baby to snuggle down. Jesus, God’s own child, was born in this simple, ordinary way. God comes to us in the messy, everyday miracles of life and love.
One Godly Play story begins like this: “There once was someone who said such wonderful things and did such amazing things that people just had to ask him who he was. Once when they asked him, he said, ‘I am the light…’”
Another time, Jesus told the ones listening to his stories, “You are the light of the world.” The light shines in each of us. By this light, we see God in each other: in family, friends, and strangers. Through small acts of kindness and courage, the light grows and spreads. Everyone glows with the light of God’s love. Everyone is holy.
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.