It was a birthday party. You might say it was the best kind of birthday party to go to, since the birthday boy was rich: he provided all kinds of food and drink and entertainment, and he gave out the presents. So the whole town was there, and it was a typical community celebration. Granted the old guy was kind of strange; he’d been off on a long journey and hadn’t been quite right since he came back. He gained some very strange acquaintances that showed up from time to time, and no-one knew where he got his money, but folks were content to let it slide and enjoy themselves at his expense. After supper, he got up to talk, and as usual he didn’t make a lot of sense, but at the end of his talk something quite amazing happened: Bilbo Baggins vanished into thin air. The birthday party was no ordinary party, it was the beginning of an adventure that changed the world.
The birth of a child was and is always a special event, and we can imagine the thoughts and feelings going through Mary’s head having her child. The dedication of a baby boy in Jewish culture is a very important event. In the time of the Gospels, a first born son was a special blessing for the family because it meant that the family would continue, the parents would be supported in their old age, that they were a family how were living justly before God. But suddenly some shepherd showed up, and that must have thrown her for a loop: it’s the equivalent of having a strange biker gang show up for a friendly, sober visit. They message was a bizarre one: they had seen a sky full of angels singing Glory to God, and talking about the Messiah come to Bethlehem. A special occasion was just made unique; a joyous time became a cause for everyone to rejoice.
On the eighth day, a baby boy was circumcised, which was his entry into the covenant of Moses; it was every bit as important as a baptism of a baby is to us and perhaps even more so. This joyful celebration took place rather regularly, and there was a lot of tradition wrapped up in it. People who came knew what they were going to get, what to expect. It was a time to honor the father and mother of the child; it was their event as much as anything. This celebration was different: as we hear from Matthew’s Gospel, people reacted to this event in extraordinary ways to pointed to something unique, something special. Jesus’ coming into the world changed everything.
We gather to celebrate something special every time we are here together for the Eucharist. To some extent we know what to expect: we sing a little, we listen to scriptures, we pray, we share a meal. It can be easy to get into a routine with this, just as we can get into other holiday routines. After all, a New Year’s Eve party is always a special event, and it’s always exciting to think about who we’re going to be with and what we’re going to do, but it’s not a time we expect to be transformed, when we expect the world to change, at least, not since Y2K. This time of year we look back and look ahead, and see where we’ve come and wonder where we’re going. But we kind of know how things are going to be: life will go on in 2013 much in the same way that 2012 and 2011 and so forth. Life goes on.
As we do take this look around, it can be important to remember that this gathering we celebrate here every week isn’t about something routine. What we celebrate here isn’t about a celebration that we forget the next day, and it isn’t about life going on as usual. Our lives are different in the light of this baby Jesus. We celebrate something basic to our existence here: our relationship with God, both as individuals and as a people. Like Mary, we’re called to ponder in our hearts just what it means for Jesus to come to us, become part of us. We come here to embrace how our journeys are going to be changed, what unexpected places we’re going to go, what ways that we’re going to be different. And like these celebrations I mentioned, this is an event that changes the world and how it’s going to be.
We continue our celebration of Christmas today. We continue to celebrate how Jesus has changed our lives. We stand in wonder and awe at the gift we have received. We need to do this, to remember, so that we can shake off our slumber and live as we are meant to live. We share in the meal today as we always do, remembering that this gift is going to make us different. And that will be a very good thing, and the world is going to be better for it.