Preached on Christmas Eve, 2016 at the 9:00 pm candlelight service
by Rev. Robin Bartlett at
The First Church in Sterling, MA.
(I forgot to record this and its just as well you don't hear me butcher the Boston accent. I swear I'm from here.)
This week, I posted a version of this reflection on Facebook, and I got so many inspiring messages of hope and similar actions as a result, that I thought I would share it with you as my Ode to this Christmas, 2016.
I call it: “Kid, I’m like the Mayah of Dunkin’”
One day last fall, I drove up to the Dunkin' Donuts window in the Sterling drive-thru and found that the person in the car ahead of me had paid for my coffee. I had to pull over and cry. I cried because I rarely think to do things like that, and that person didn't know me. I could have been a person she disagreed with politically or religiously, or an ex-con or someone who neglects my kids. She didn't care. She wanted to pay for my coffee. "Humans are good," I thought.
About a half an hour later that same day, I was at the Concord rotary, and a car rear-ended me, flipping me off as he drove by. "Humans are terrible," I thought. I had to pull over and cry again, this time with anger.
If I'm being honest, I have both of those people in me--the generous, thoughtful human paying for the coffee of the person behind her, and the angry impatient jerk who thinks only of herself, inconvenienced and enraged by someone else’s slow driving, unwilling to stop and apologize after hitting someone.
I wish that I was so mystical and at one with my creator that I saw each person I encountered as worthy and having dignity, beloved by God. But the truth is, I have seen the angry, impatient, flipping-the-bird-road-rage jerk winning far too often. in the internal fight we all have between good and evil; which is really a fight between love and fear, too often I see evil and fear win. I have noticed this most especially in myself. As someone who worships the God whose battle cry is “Fear not!” and whose other name is Love, this is demoralizing and dehumanizing.
I have been preaching all advent that like Scrooge, we have forgotten what it means to keep Christmas well. We have succumbed to our anger, our hurt, our greed, our grief, our separation from one another. We have forgotten that we belong to each other and to God.
This is why we are given this sparkling sacred night, and this blessed story about God wearing the vulnerability of human skin. This night of candle light piercing darkness and angels singing. We are given this silent holy night to remind us who we are, and whose we are.
This ancient story helps facilitate our birth and re-birth, every year. For God coming in the flesh in the form of a helpless baby boy gives us all hope that we, too, can become worthy of our birthright as children of God. Like Scrooge did on Christmas Eve, we can begin again. We can transform from people who succumb to the worst of who we are, to people who live in to the best of who we can be.
On Christmas day, Scrooge wakes up in the morning to discover that it’s not too late to change the tragic trajectory of the future. There is still time. He hasn’t missed Christmas yet.
And he is not fully redeemed until he knocks on the door of his family’s house, and asks to be let back in. Whether you and I have family relationships that need repairing right now, or we need to repair relationships with other parts of the human family, Christmas is here. There is still time. We haven’t missed it.
The moral revolution this country needs is here. Right here in this room. Those of us who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Unto us a child is born. And the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.
Since November 9th, I have started paying for the person behind me in the Dunkin' Donuts drive thru--middle aged men in pick up trucks, young women driving kids around in mini-vans. I know the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru in a small town in Massachusetts is probably fairly insignificant in the fight for the soul of a nation. But I think it may be significant for my soul, which has to be where this Love revolution we desperately need foments. And Love is the only weapon I have in my arsenal to fight the devil threatening to win my heart. The bottom line is, though it may be naïve and out of style and hard sometimes, I’m not giving up on the Gospel. I hope you will make a pact with me in the waning days of 2016 that you won’t either. (and we’re New Englandahs, so to hell with Stahbucks. Long live Dunkin’s.)
Truly he taught us to love one another. His Law is Love and his Gospel is peace.
Merry Christmas. Amen.
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on Christmas Day, December 25, 2016 at
First Church in Sterling, MA
Carl Seaburg says that a baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.
I remember being abundantly, 8 months pregnant with my first child when I attended the funeral of my best friend from high school’s brother. He had taken his own life, and it was the most senselessly tragic day, with hundreds of mourners pouring in to give their respects. Including gigantically pregnant me. I was so conspicuously, garishly, audaciously full of life on a day of profound death and mourning that I was guilty and embarrassed to be there.
God keeps audaciously, conspicuously, garishly telling us that life must go on in that way. That babies must be born in the midst of tragedy and war and despair, which is exactly the conditions under which Jesus was born. Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And his name shall be called Wonderful.
Gifts come in the form of things we didn’t expect; their arrival announced at the worst possible times and places.
Jacob Marley came to bring Scrooge “Good News” of the ghosts that will come to visit him in the beginning of Scrooge’s harrowing, transformative evening. That was what constituted a gift that year….terrifying ghosts to remind him of his excesses and greed.
And I don’t know about you, but my greatest gifts didn’t always seem like gifts at the time.
It’s similar with the Christmas story.
I imagine the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary and saying something like, “Mary, greetings, o favored one, the Lord is with you. Which do you want first, the bad news or the good news?”
And Mary says….hmmm, I guess I’ll take the bad news first.
I imagine Angel Gabriel saying: “Well, the bad news is that you’re poor, you’re a teenager, you’re not yet married to your betrothed, Joseph, whom you haven’t had intercourse with yet, and he may be really, really mad at you when he finds out the good news and not want to marry you.”
And Mary says, “Well, what’s the Good News then?”
And Angel Gabriel says: “You’re pregnant! But do not be afraid, the baby is God’s!”
And Luke goes on to say that Mary was “troubled.” Yeah, I don’t blame her. Good News doesn’t always sound like Good News.
The best gifts I have ever been given all came in the form of a pregnancy followed by a birth. And one of those gifts was a total surprise. I found out I was pregnant with Isaac while I was in the midst of transition. Newly divorced, I lived with my Andy, but we were not married yet. In fact, I was under the illusion that we were “taking things slowly.” And surprise! Good News!
Of course, my little Isaac was born as a healing in my family: a resurrection. A bridge from my daughters to my sweet husband, connecting us all in shared lineage and blood. Isaac brought us all back to life.
“A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.”
I have talked to more than one of you who have adult children, who this past month have given up on the idea of bringing children into this uncertain, divided, beautiful and terrible world.
I imagine that is exactly how Mary felt, terrified and great with child, made to register, finding no room at the inn. The child was born anyway, as a bridge and a healing. Jesus was born into this hurting world to bring hope to all people that we might inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus was born into a world of despair and raging petulant murderous kings to bring us back to life.
A baby can do that. A baby can bring us back to life. Like Tiny Tim brought Scrooge back to life. Born to save us all.
A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on—that hope will be born in the most unlikely places at the worst possible times.
Let that impossible hope be born in all of us this Christmas Day. Let love win. Let life win.
A sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
delivered on December 11, 2016 (the third Sunday of Advent)
at The First Church in Sterling, MA
sermons are better heard. You can listen to this one here.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas present,” the spirit said. “Look upon me!”
Today on our advent journey with Ebenezer Scrooge, we meet up with the Ghost of Christmas present. He seeks to help Scrooge peel back the curtain on the world as it is. To LOOK UPON IT. To wake up to the suffering all around him.
The Ghost takes Scrooge to see little Tiny Tim, who is a young crippled boy, and the son of Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit. The ghost promises Scrooge that Tiny Tim will not live much longer if his present predicament does not change. If he is not given the health care he needs, or the fair wage his father deserves. The food and medicine he needs to survive. Right now.
And Scrooge cries out in anguish, his heart changed by a small child’s squandered promise. ‘Oh no, kind Spirit, say he will be spared!’
We, too, need to peel back the curtain on the present and real suffering of the world and allow it to thaw our hearts for the sake of the children.
So let’s talk about the present day, in our own little town of Bethlehem.
It was a tough week in Sterling. There was a bomb threat at the elementary and middle schools on Thursday. It was credible enough that the kids had to be evacuated, bomb sniffing dogs and state police sweeping the school. The children and parents were terrified. The police, fire, school administrators, teachers and seniors at the senior center were AWESOME, and kept our children safe, loved, and calm. Chiefs Chamberland and Hurlbut are heroes among men. The state police, Sterling police and fire department, school administrators and teachers, also heroic. So are our fierce town grandmas and grandpas at the senior center, where some of the middle school kids were evacuated. I am proud to live here, and raise my children here among these lovingly kick butt adults.
But the real Sterling drama happened earlier this week on Facebook.
The so-called “War on Christmas” came to Sterling, the news of which overshadowed all threats of a bomb in the schools. Last year the war came to Starbucks, fought with those “un-Christian” plain red cups. Remember that? As if Jesus is more angry about his lack of likeness on a cup than he is that we spend $5 on a latte and then throw that cup in the trash, amen?
Anyway, this year, the war was fought on the frontlines of the embattled Houghton Elementary School. Parents on social media raged that the principal of the school took away elf on the shelf, letters to Santa Claus, and reduced the amount of Christmas songs in the holiday concert and then didn’t alert the parents to this change in curriculum. “Political correctness has taken over our school!” Parents cried on Facebook, on a thread that was shared over 100 times, and all over the country.
Comments said things like: “This is America! We celebrate Christmas here! The minority has taken over the majority and we’re not gonna take it anymore. What about our rights? Buncha (pansies). Buncha snowflakes. The principal should be fired.”
I can’t even say aloud in church some of the words that were said against our principal, he was called disgusting names. People talked about staging protests by dressing their kids up in Christmas clothes and having them sing carols outside his office. Someone suggested that the parent who asked Cipro that more holidays be recognized was a cry baby liberal who needs safety pins for their diapers. Someone suggested we find out who the concerned parent was, and publicly expose and humiliate them. One of the lone parents defending diversity in the school got called out: “it must have been ‘this broad’ who complained. It’s people like this who ruin our children’s life long memories. It’s disgusting!” Someone wrote, “Go Trump.” “This is a Christian nation. If you don’t like it, homeschool your kids.” When the debate meandered over to the Fox 25 Facebook page, someone blamed the downfall of America on all those Muslims.
There were hundreds of comments. All talking, no listening.
What a beautiful display of Christian values. All for the sake of defending the celebration of the birth of the prince of peace.
“There are some upon this earth of yours," the Ghost of Christmas Present says, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."
The elementary school principal, Tony Cipro, responded by telling parents that he seeks to recognize the diversity of holidays the students celebrate in the school, which are all about sharing love, joy, peace and giving at this time of year. “This year we will seek to have a more balanced approach in the symbols we display and the activities we engage in with our shared, most prized possession, our children,” he said.
“Teachers may continue to display a Christmas tree, Santa, Menorahs, wreaths, dreidels, candles, garland, gingerbread people, poinsettias, and more. Bulletin boards are available for all types of holiday themes. Children's literature on December holidays can be displayed, read for read-a-loud time. Children will continue to be able to wear holiday hats in school and we will have our annual school sing-a-long which will include traditional holiday songs,” he said.
Yesterday, the Houghton school sold all kinds of Christmas decorations at their wonderful Holiday Fair. Thank you, PTA!
In other words, the real story is there is no story. In other words, we continue to sensationalize the narrative we want to hear: a proxy war for our adult political fights, using our children as pawns.
Well, the news media loves a good story on the War on Christmas. And so reporters from Fox 25 News came to Sterling on the day of the bomb scare to drum up their favorite Christmas story for the news at 5. And I was interviewed saying that Christmas has not left our little town, that my children in the school did not come home and say that the principal had cancelled Christmas, that we still celebrate Christmas with gusto in our house and church, that the real story is a bomb scare. I said that this was a time for measured calm. (An angry parent who thought the “other side” was not well represented called me a “very soft spoken pastor”, which is the first time I have ever been called soft spoken in my life. My meditation practice must be working.)
The next day, I was approached by channel 4 on the street outside the church. “Are you the Reverend?” (Who knew I would get famous living out here in Sterling?) “We reporters love a good war on Christmas story,” he said, “but I see you have a Christmas tree right here on the town common. And the town hall is decorated in Christmas decorations. And apparently the principal is still recognizing Christmas among the other holidays. It kind of seems like we have no story.” “Yes,” I said. “I think the story is DEFINITELY that you have no story.” He interviewed me anyway. I invited everyone in Massachusetts to church here at First Church to learn the true meaning of Christmas. Strangely, the interview never aired!
So let’s talk about the true meaning, since I promised that in my never aired interview. When we think about Christmas now, we think about letters to Santa, the Nutcracker, sugarplums, reindeer, and that creepy little Elf on the Shelf introduced in 2008 by Walmart as a timeless treasured Christmas tradition that teaches our children what it’s like to live in a police state.
None of that is Christmas. Not even close.
Here’s the real Christmas story. Here’s the real story about the world Jesus was born into. If you listen carefully, you’ll also hear the story of Christmas present.
Once upon a time, there was a King named Herod. King Herod was a jealous, raging, narcissistic, cry baby, frightened king who couldn’t stand the idea of a little baby being born in Bethlehem, threatening to unseat him. So he called on his constituents--three Wise Men--to follow the star to where this tiny baby lay, sleeping in heavenly peace. He wanted these guys to reveal this powerful baby’s location, so that Herod could destroy him.
The Wise Men do, in fact, find the baby, and they offer him presents. They are awed by his miracle, and his light. They have a dream that night that spooks them enough that they don’t go back to Herod to tell him where the child is. And Joseph has a dream telling him it’s a good idea to move his little family to Egypt to protect them, so he does.
When Herod finds out that he had been tricked by the wise men, he goes into a rage. Like the jealous, thin-skinned, easily threatened, narcissistic, impulsive leader that he is, he retaliates. (And King Herod doesn’t have Twitter, which is almost too bad, since Twitter is far less bloody.) Herod retaliates by killing all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. That’s right. Herod is so spiteful, thin-skinned and easily provoked that he kills all of the young children in Bethlehem, all in response to his fear of a little baby who challenges his leadership.
The parents of Bethlehem are inconsolable, of course. The weeping is deafening: wailing and loud lamentation.
The real story of Christmas is the story of Bethlehem: A child born to save us from the vengeful rulers of the world with God’s rule of Love. Parents wailing for their lost children. This is the truth the light of Christ shines on.
And here’s the truth of the Christmas present we all need to look upon. Bethlehem happens now, in many places, all over the world. Bethlehem happens here in Sterling, and everywhere the darkness of empire threatens to swallow up the light of God. And everywhere, there are parents weeping for their children, refusing to be consoled.
And there is real religious persecution in today’s Bethlehem, and it ain’t against Christians in the public school.
A week ago, the mosque in Wayland, MA received a letter that was sent to mosques all over the country. The letter calls Muslims “vile and filthy people” who face a “day of reckoning . . . there’s a new sheriff in town — President Donald Trump....."The president-elect," it says, will “do to you . . . what Hitler did to the Jews.”
Make no mistake about it, this letter is part of the real war on Christmas. Because the real war on Christmas is the war on Christ, who taught us that God is Love, and that all are one in God.
So here’s a report from the frontlines of the war on Christ: There is a war on Islam right now. There is a war on women's rights. There is a war on people of color, Jews, the GLBTQ community, US veterans, Native Americans, immigrants, the poor, the laborer, and our children. There is a war on human decency, as evidenced by every internet comment thread ever written. And because of all of the above, there is absolutely a war on Christ.
So beloved, let’s get on the frontlines of this war with weapons of extravagant, wasteful love. LOVE BOMBS. I have passed out cards to you this morning. Simple, blank greeting cards with artful pictures Linda Davis took of our church. I want you to write a message of love in it—to Mr. Cipro at the Houghton School who is only human, and doing the best that he can, or to the police and fire departments thanking them for helping us create a world worthy of our children’s promise, to the teachers, to the senior center, or to the Wayland mosque—PLEASE to the Wayland mosque. And all of the above! Let’s show them all the love of Christ—the real reason for the season. We’ll have more at coffee hour. Put them in the baskets in the front and the back of the church on the way out on in the baskets at coffee hour, and we will send them off for you. We will even pay the postage.
In this Christmas present, let us create heaven on earth for our children: a world shining with the light of truth and love. Let us ring out wild bells of the hot mess of this past year and let it die a dumpster fire death. “Ring out false pride in place and blood, the civic slander and the spite; ring in the love of truth and right; ring in the common love of good.” (Tennyson)
They will know we are Christians by our LOVE. God bless us every one.
A sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Delivered December 4, 2016
at The First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better heard than read. Listen here.
[I often listen to my sermons from the week before because it helps me improve my preaching. I listened to last week’s on Tuesday. Last Sunday, I had had a long Thanksgiving weekend. I had two parties that I hosted at the parsonage—one for family on Thursday, and one for friends on Saturday. And I had apparently eaten so much turkey and had so much fun last weekend that on Sunday morning, I got into this pulpit and called Jacob Marley “Bob Marley.” And none of you so much as flinched. You didn’t laugh, you didn’t call me on it in the receiving line. My own husband noticed and didn’t say anything until I asked him about it on Tuesday. If I had been sitting in the pews, I would have started singing “One love.” But you just sat there quietly. Maybe you weren’t listening. But anyway, that’s how I define grace. Ignoring your minister’s reference to Bob Marley in the story of A Christmas Carol..]
Please won’t you pray with me.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts together find their way into the heart of God this morning. Amen.
We are taking a journey with Ebenezer Scrooge this advent, and today we are going to explore the ghosts of our Christmas past, and how they facilitate our transformation and redemption. We are going to talk about how the ghosts of our past give us hope for healing ourselves and this broken world.
We start with scripture.
Our scripture text from Isaiah talks about what the upside down, mixed up, topsy turvy kingdom of God will look like—the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the lion and the fatling together. (What’s a fatling?) The cow and the bear will graze together. I’m guessing the Davises will confirm that these scenarios are rather unlikely. In this world, anyway.
But we are told this is what God’s world will look like—a peaceable kingdom.
Where they will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Our text from the Gospel according to Matthew is rather harsh, demanding that we repent because this upside down peaceable kingdom has come near. And frankly, John the Baptist isn’t very peaceable in talking about what it’s gonna take to make this happen. He talks about a person coming after him who will baptize us with the holy spirit. And no one ever promised us that the holy spirit would bring us comfort. In fact, apparently there’s unquenchable fire involved.
(I frankly feel like the whole world’s on fire right now, so if repenting is what it takes to quench the fire, sign me up.)
Repent, John the Baptist says. The kingdom of God has come near. I know the thought of “repenting” has rather negative connotations for some of us. I always think of that guy in the subway who has a “repent or BURN” sign. But re-penting means simply to re-think, and return to God. Repenting requires us to re-member, re-think and re-turn.
So today we are going to consider how we might start that process of returning to ourselves and to God by examining our past; remembering.
How many of you are on Facebook? How many of you have been on Facebook for more than 5 years? I joined Facebook in 2007. And it is almost 2017, so that’s almost 10 years of Facebook for me. A quarter of my life, and half of my adult life. And Facebook has this nifty little feature. It’s called “on this day.” Every single morning at about 8 am, Facebook prompts me to look at all of my posts “on this day” in my history for all of the years that I have been on Facebook. “Look upon me!” Facebook says. “I am the Ghost of Christmas past.”
If you post a lot of pictures and other kinds of posts on Facebook like I do, this tool can be both heartwarming and exceedingly painful, especially at this time of year. For those of us like me who are divorced with children from a previous marriage, Facebook is a daily reminder of every Christmas spent as an intact family. For those of us who have lost loved ones, it is a reminder of every Christmas spent with our friends and family now gone. For those of us who are currently depressed or in mourning, it’s a painful reminder of happier times when we didn’t need therapists and grief groups and lexapro. For those of us who are sober, it’s a painful reminder of a time when we weren’t. For those of us who are currently happy, it’s a painful reminder of times when we were pretending for others that we were. For those of us who have recently been diagnosed, it’s a reminder of how carefree we were before the diagnosis. For those of us who are parents, it is a daily reminder of how little our sweet babies once were, or what our home was like before they left for college. And so on.
Facebook gives us an invasive daily dose of the Ghosts of Christmas past, and those ghosts can haunt.
And yet, I don’t know about you, but every single experience of pain, adversity and suffering in my life has helped to soften and open my heart to those who suffer. My suffering has made me a better pastor. It has the potential to make me a better friend, a better wife and parent, a better neighbor. When I am more in tune with my own suffering, I am more attuned to the suffering of the world. And so when I’m in the mood, I try to let the daily practice of examining the Facebook Ghosts of my Christmas past break my heart again. I look at the photos of my differently configured family with my little beautiful babies, and I let myself feel the sadness again. I allow my heart to break open, so my own suffering might inform my love for others. Compassion starts with heartbreak.
This experience was also part of Scrooge’s redemption.
You know that there are a thousand adaptations of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” because it is so universally, multi-generationally, timelessly beloved. Multiple movies and plays and TV Shows. Everyone from the Muppets to Albert Finney has depicted Scrooge.
And my favorite of all time is Mr. Magoo’s “A Christmas Carol.”
We watch it every year. The saddest scene that makes me cry every time is when Mr. Magoo, who plays Scrooge, visits his childhood self. He is alone, friendless, and at a home for orphaned boys. He is washing the chalkboards after school, and he sings the song “Alone in the World.”
“A hand for each hand was planned for the world, why don’t my fingers reach? Millions of grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach? Where is a voice who’ll answer mine back? Where are two shoes who’ll click to my clack? I’m all alone in the world.”
Mr. Magoo watches himself singing this song as a boy, and a single tear slides down his cheek. He looks back on his childhood self—his childhood suffering, his childhood loneliness—the God-sized hole he cannot fill.
And his adult heart begins to thaw.
Perhaps repenting means letting our hearts soften first for ourselves. Maybe this is what repentance by fire looks like.
Remembering, rethinking, returning again.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
Perhaps the peaceable kingdom comes to this earth when we let our childhood selves lead us.
Our friend Mary Pat sent me an email this week inspired by last week’s sermon on Bob Marley (Just seeing if you were paying attention…) I mean, last week’s sermon on the Scrooge inside of each of us. Her story is about the heartbreak of Christmas past informing the faith of her Christmas present. It blessed me, so I asked if I could share it with all of you. I’m only sharing parts of it with you here.
“Dear Robin: I have to tell you that I believed in Santa Claus until I was 13. (Shocking, I know). My family just couldn't bring themselves to tell me, so ardent was my belief. I was an innocent, and they mistook that for being “emotionally-delicate” as my (wryly, bi-polar) Mother would put it. But my younger sister, Sarah, was of the age (the normal age) of the unbeliever, and had begun to ask questions that the rest of my family was having difficulty answering unless they first addressed the issue with me. So my parents sat me down in the living room; a room that outside of Christmas morning, was only ever used for guests and important family “discussions” about how much trouble we were in.
It was after Mass, on Christmas Eve. As my parents began telling me their truth of the story of Santa, I could feel the room spinning. Before they could finish, I was running out of the room wailing, up the stairs, slamming and locking the door to the bathroom. I sat on the edge of the tub and sobbed. My poor family. I was inconsolable. I am sure they were worried that there was something terribly wrong with my mental state of health (truth be told, the jury is still out...) For although they knew me – and often made fun of me – for being naive, it was truly beyond their comprehension that I could still “at my age” be a believer.
For me, the notion absolutely rocked my world. But my tears were not that of disappointment. My tears flowed out of fear... of a gut wrenching, heart-breaking fear that if there was no Santa Claus, then maybe there was no God...and if there was no God, then this being that I had known so intimately all my life, that I'd known longer than I'd known anyone in my family or even my own self...if this relationship was not God, then I truly was crazy...and I knew I would never survive my kind of crazy without God. The thought of living in a world without God was incomprehensible to me and there was no way I wanted to live in this world without Him.”
Mary Pat’s Ghost of Christmas past was encountering a world without wonder, and worse, a world without God. “I’m all alone in the world.”
She didn’t know then that it would take a child to lead her back home; to help her remember, rethink and return.
When Mary Pat’s daughter Giorgia asked her mom the question Mary Pat most dreaded as a parent, she was 6, “Is Santa real?” She asked.
Mary Pat did that parent thing that all kids hate, she answered the question with more questions. And then she concluded: “it's all about what you believe.”
“And that Christmas morning,” Mary Pat writes “opposite the side of the room where Santa had left a stocking filled for Giorgia, to my complete and utter surprise and delight, lay the stocking from my childhood (long forgotten and left behind in the otherwise empty boxes of decorations) filled with clementines and walnuts, ...a can of corn (one had gone missing from the cupboard a few days earlier), ...a Kit-Kat bar (her favorite, bought on the way home from school, but, curiously, “saved for later”) ...bits of ribbon for my hair, a bead necklace, and pictures that “Santa” had drawn just for me...... I was in Awe, and Giorgia was completely giddy. It was a perfectly exquisite moment of Joy… Santa still fills my stocking every year.”
She says: “to this day my family, unaware of how horrid that moment was for me, still teases me about how old I was when I finally stopped believing in Santa Claus. They don't know that I have a secret. To this day I am still the first one up on Christmas morning—the only parent I know to wake up before her child. You see, I never stopped believing, and 20 years later my Faith was rewarded with my most treasured of Christmas Gifts.”
…and a little child shall lead them.
Our faith is rewarded every year, if we let it. Because the miracle of Christmas is not in the stars or the magi or the angels heralding God’s presence on earth. The miracle is in the way we are God’s presence to each other. It is in the ways in which we build God’s peaceable kingdom here on earth. This kingdom starts inside of each of us. Because our hearts have been softened by our own suffering. Because we have woken up again to the suffering of all people. Because it is so dark, and we still have audacious hope for the return of the light.
Beloved, the kingdom of God is so very near. Re-member, re-think, and re-turn. Let the children lead.
The miracle has just begun in you, God bless us everyone!
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.