The Unplanned Magic of Christmas Eve – Rev. Caitlin Cotter Coillberg

Reading by rev. m jade kaiser of enfleshed, prayer by  Rev. Jude Geiger – Oh Holy Night- translated into English by the American Unitarian minister and music critic John Sullivan Dwight in 1855, is one of my favorite Christmas songs, thank you so much, sanctuary singers, for that beautiful rendition of it.  

That song will always make me think of a play I did a few times as a child in the community theater of my hometown called “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”.  

Have y’all heard of that?  It’s based on a children’s novel written by Barbara Robinson in 1971.  The plot is about a family of troubled kids called the Herdmans who go to church one Sunday because they hear there will be snacks and end up taking all the big parts in the annual Christmas Pageant.  

All the privileged kids in the story are all “oh no, this is going to be the worst Christmas pageant”- but the Herdman kids connect to the story in a way that the other children hadn’t before, and their enthusiasm, confusion, and heartfelt contributions make everyone look at the story in a new way. I especially remember the year I was Leroy Herdman- I had a great line about how I was going to wear my batman sheets as a wise man, and there was this great part where we brought baby jesus food from our charity Christmas dinner basket because that was clearly more useful than frankincense or myrrh.  

And there’s this one part I especially loved, where Imogen Herdman, who is Mary in the play within a play, is holding the babydoll jesus and reflecting on the story she is learning while doing this pageant.  The scene is just the actress playing Imogen, holding a baby doll, alone on a stage while Holy Night plays or is sung.  She’s just sitting there and crying, and you can’t help but think about who Mary was. A teenager. A teenage girl. Unwed, Unprivileged. Poor and oppressed, running from King Herod. And FULL of righteous fury and tenderness, intensity and strength and courage.  Like so many teenage girls we know, yeah?  

Mary, who celebrates her pregnancy as a call to bring down the powerful from their thrones, feed the hungry and send the rich away empty, who gives birth in the straw surrounded by animals and has no crib for her child.  Mary is amazing, fierce, gentle, brilliant- like so many teenage girls we know, like so many teenage girls and babies and young parents stuck in poverty or fleeing violence and war around the world tonight, yeah? I hope we can see her, and her sweet baby, can hear her call down the ages- a call to justice, to compassion, to generosity and joy and solidarity and hope.  

There is so much in this Christmas story, this ancient story of hope where there should not have been hope, wonder and joy where persecution was planned- joy that was not earned or coordinated, but came all the same. We can inhabit these stories, take a role in them, play our way into startled revelation, until the phrase “be not afraid” settles in our bones, and peace takes on new meaning. I think we can open ourselves up to that when we open ourselves up to the unexpected, the unplanned, to new perspectives and truths, and be present with what is.  

Like this gorgeous poem, written for Christmas Eve by rev. m jade kaiser of enfleshed.  Listen;

Silent night; Holy with wonder and worry; An absence of words tethers connection; as tremors of pain coax toward a portal –; There will be a breaking open.

Desperate and determined hope gesture; to a future of toppling thrones,; kinship queering,; and riches scattered amongst the weary.

Reaching for strength in ancient soils,; prayers ground like roots; Faith steadies as flesh trembles. 

Glory to the stars, softly glowing their; stories of a longer lineage to which this love belongs.

Glory to each ‘yes’ whispered through uncertain breath; on perilous paths toward promises yet fulfilled.

Glory to the night –; the darkness that keeps vigil so there can be rest. 

Soon a howling cry will call ; the sleeping to arise –; a wailing that reverberates; across generations,; the sound of hope,; bloody, determined, and arriving.

When we can pause from what we expect, what we planned, when we let ourselves be present with the world around us and  ancient stories in new ways, we can find holiness in the winter night and in each other in new ways. Just like when we let our children and ourselves be who we are, what we are becoming, and not what we expected or planned, we open up to the wonder and magic of what is and can be. If we can find even a single moment of pause, of quiet, to listen for the holy and let our hearts break open again.  To cry, if we need to, for the stories we hear and see and are becoming. I trust we will find joy, unearned and unexpected and unplanned.  I trust that that joy can help carry us forward, through all the pain of this time, as we practice hope and presence and world shifting compassion. 

And in that spirit, I offer you this prayer by Rev. Jude Geiger; 

God of Grace, Spirit of Hope Abounding, Source of Love, Surprise us when we least expect it. Enter our lives as the shining star in the night, sudden, unexpected, clear. Remind us that there is a depth to life, an urgency in being. That we are not merely actors dimly reading our parts, but creative souls, crucial to the story at hand. Living is a practice of bringing our full selves to bear: in the questing times, when we’re uncertain of our purpose, or our place; in the times of epiphany, when newfound clarity must be brought to action. In the times of loss, when hope flies from our grasp. help us to remember the lessons of Christmas. New possibilities are ever abundant. What we’re seeking may take a turn for the unexpected. Hope, grace and love are central to our lives – not power, or privilege, or fear.

Dear God – help us to realize these lessons in our lived experience. Take our hand and lead us away from cynicism and dismissal; from contention and despair. Grant us a renewal of vision. And when the choirs of angels cease their singing, and the shepherds return to their flocks, and the stable-hands come to replenish the hay, may we have found the respite we needed amidst the glory of the night; may our hearts remain opened for another turning of the year; and may we have the courage to spread this message of possibility, of compassion over indifference, of the ordinary miracle.

And the people say, Amen.