Christmas Day

I have always had a love-hate relationship with Walgreen’s. Ever since I entered my first Walgreen’s in l943, it has remained the same. Tons of merchandise, cluttered shelves, glaring lights, untidy floors and a constant stream of passers-by. Not your Grover’s Corners drug store of obvious warmth and familiarity. And yet Christmas is not Christmas for me unless I go to Walgreen’s just before The Day itself. The store’s messiness causes me to step back a little bit from my Brooks Brothers mentality, and it is a mirror of what life is really like. There are the unpleasant necessities and the vital necessities. There are the trivia and, upon closer, look some things of real value.

She stood in the aisle dressed in the clothing of her native land; a scarf pulled tightly over her head, a long garment with a cowl, which partially hid her face. Her face had the beauty of a Persian or Middle Easterner. Was she from Pakistan, Kazakhstan or Afghanistan? She could have easily been from Palestine. Her husband, bearded, adoring and patient, watched her pluck one stuffed animal after an other from the shelf and wiggled it in front of her baby. The child squirmed and grinned, delighted with the game. One customer asked the family if they were getting ready for Santa. Wary incomprehension greeted him. I did not recognize their language. Most of us standing in line at the register watched the family as they played with their infant. We were guests at an intersection of a private-public moment. Strange cultures were intersecting, the West and the East, and time was intersecting. It could have been any time between one AD and now, when a family stopped at a bazaar on the road to somewhere. A Middle Eastern family caught up in joy of love and the delight of a new birth - surely it was not all that different on Christmas Day in Bethlehem when Christ was born.

We respond to the Christmas story because it universally speaks to the human heart. There is a quality of innocence, as there always is, with the picture of a new born and mother. There is the sense of miracle, as there always is at the time of birth. The joy and love of mother and child is a thing of beauty. With birth there are all the things which make life worth while, creation: hope, new opportunities and challenges, new families.

The shepherds and stable hands that attended Jesus’ birth were not much different from the customers who stood with me and marveled at the family in the store. They were quiet participating spectators reverencing a special moment. But the Christmas story is more than a story of human hopes and fears, dreams and apprehensions. The birth of Christ is set in a context of the historical life of a people. It is set amidst the history of salvation, which began with a people and was destined to be for all people. Time and eternity intersect at the birth of Jesus. Past, present and future unite. The cosmos and the world change from this moment on. God has become man. The gulf between deity and humanity is transcended.

With the birth of Jesus we have more than the birth of a prophet or a holy man. His significance is not as a lawgiver like Moses or Mohammed, or as an aesthetic like Buddha, nor as a magical god personifying various aspects of nature as with the Hindu gods. Jesus is not reverenced as a divine military ruler or political Mullah. Jesus is remembered because of what he was and is - the incarnation of God in man, the presence of God in our Walgreen’s-like life with its bustle, tawdriness and mixed values. Christmas celebrates the intersection of heaven and earth, potentiality and reality, eternity and time, love and life. You and I celebrate Christmas not simply because it evokes all the human emotions of beauty, hope and love. Rather we celebrate it for its awesomeness, its profundity, its glorious mystery, its ability to unite us all and to make the heart sing and the soul burst forth with joy. We are filled with the gifts of shining moments of incredible beauty, which point beyond our life and our world. We rejoice at the glimpse of God’s graciousness and the beginning of a story which extends beyond the here and now and continues in eternity.

My visit to Walgreen’s was epiphany-like in that it showed me something beyond the ordinary. May Christmas Day be for you an epiphanic moment which reveals the wondrous beauty of God’s gracious love. Amen.