You can tell it with wise men from the exotic East giving a baby gifts suitable for a king.
You can tell it with shepherds, startled in the night by angels, finding a newborn baby in a stable.
You can tell it as the divine Word of God, the source of the whole world, entering the world as one of us, putting on flesh in order to live among us.
It is the same story: the Christmas story is the story of God, showing up, becoming present – fully, personally present to our world – to us.
Christmas is about God showing up with every sense engaged.
The Christmas story is about a baby whose skin feels the fabric of the swaddling clothes that bundle him as he lies in the manger. He smells the hay and the animals close by. He feels the cold air as he breathes each breath, moment by moment, in and out. He feels hunger. Maybe fear.
But his mother is there, and so he feels tenderness. His father is there; he feels protected. Love is there, and he experiences loving and being loved.
He is there for all of it, taking it all in, knowing it from the inside. He is present.
It’s about being there to notice everything. It’s about mindfulness.
This is where the story begins. As the story continues, we see that he never stops being mindfully present. He is present to working class fisherman, and he calls them to a life of being present with him.
He teaches them to be mindfully present, as he is present. Mindfulness is awareness.
He notices that people who are listening to him teach, are getting hungry. He asks his disciples to find food for them. They cannot. So he feeds them.
He notices there are people who are sick, and he is present for them in healing ways – he looks at them, speaks with them, touches them, humanizes them with his mindful attention to them as real, unique people, and so, heals them.
He is present to women who have been taken advantage of.
He is present to people who are being shunned and avoided, to lepers and the lame.
He is present even to Romans, even Roman soldiers, whose job it is to enforce the oppression his own people. He is present even to their servants He is present to tax collectors and to notorious sinners.
Jesus lived a life fully, mindfully present to each one. He had no dualistic thinking. He did not think in all-or-nothing categories, black or white, good people-bad people. He was present to all of them, as they were.
The Christmas story, about God becoming present to this world, calls us to a new way of being. It calls us to be mindfully present. To stop to take a deep, slow breath. To notice the floor beneath our feet, the supporting seats we are sitting on, the temperature of the air as we breath.
We are called to become mindfully present to the people around us – their eyes, their posture, the clues that they are sending about their inner world.
We are called to be mindfully present at the meals we will eat this Christmas; to the color and the texture of each bite; the mingling of flavors and aromas.
And as mindfully present people, we are called, on Christmas, to light a candle to illumine the dark places around us. To begin to see what we did not see before. To become mindfully present to the people who are not around us.
We are called on Christmas to shine the light on the people who will not be joining family around tables, the ones who will not have Christmas meals to savor, and the ones who have been excluded.
We are called to be mindful of those who are not able to be at home, and to those who are homeless. We are called to be mindful of those among us whose home is a land foreign to us.
The Christmas story has one meaning: that God is present to us, his people: completely, fully, immediately present in every way that it is possible to be.
The Christmas story we tell is one that we wish to live.
We will now light our candles. May our mindfulness begin in this moment. May we be mindful of the flicker of its flame, mindful of holding it in our hands, mindful of the firmness of the floor as we stand, and of each step as we walk out into the night’s darkness.
And may the light of each candle be for each of us, a sign of our willingness to illumine each place of darkness around us so that we can become newly, mindfully aware.
May we come to know that the Christmas story is about God, inviting us to be present to the people of this world, just as Jesus was present. And to bear the light of his love into each dark corner, the light of peace, the light of hope, the light of forgiveness, and the light of mercy.