Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
July 11, 2021
Christmas in July
When I was a little girl, one of the things I loved best about Christmas was that Christmas was predictable. Mom cooked the same food. The same relatives came to visit. The ritual of Christmas was the same each year-up at 5am to see what Santa brought, then breakfast, then the tree, then a day of family and friends, and an enormous Christmas dinner. Once I was old enough to go to church on Christmas Eve and pay attention, we sang our way through Jesus’ birth with the same hymns and the same story every year. The predictability of Christmas was grounding and even though I did not have words for it as a child, no matter what happened in my life or the life of the world, I knew that Christmas would come on schedule and Christmas would be the same.
On the other hand, Christmas in July is a bit jarring, no matter how excited I am for this day. Hearing the story and singing the hymns out of season is uncomfortable. Creating an experience of Christmas in the middle of the summer, out of nowhere, when nothing around us says Christmas, is just weird. Why, then, other than to rejoice that we can finally be together and sing the Christmas hymns, are we celebrating Christmas in July?
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her what her role would be in the salvation of humankind, God didn’t ask Mary to check her calendar and see if perhaps they could meet at the coffee shop later in the week. Mary didn’t have time to prepare for the conversation or think about what God wanted. Gabriel just showed up and said to Mary “And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus.”
When the time came for Jesus to be born, Mary and Joseph were on their way to Bethlehem to be counted for the census. Mary had no birth plan, no bag packed weeks ahead with all the things she might need to keep her comfortable during labor. She had no four weeks of Advent to prepare, there were no casseroles in the freezer for later, and there does not seem to have been any baby shower. This birth came at a highly inconvenient time.
Once Jesus was born, there was no stack of freshly laundered onsies for Mary to clothe Jesus. She had to make do with whatever was available. What was available was scraps of cloth for clothes and a feeding trough for a crib.
The Christmas story tells us that Jesus was born on God’s time, not ours, which is often not convenient. Jesus was born in the midst of less than ideal circumstances, to parents who were hardly ready and had to make do with what they had. And yet, Jesus was born, the angels sang, the star glowed, the shepherd traveled, and Mary treasured in her heart the story that had been birthed from her womb.
Collectively, we have been though a year with challenges unlike anything we have ever experienced, and the pandemic is not yet over. Individually, our lives have held challenges unrelated to the pandemic yet exacerbated by the virus. God did not show up and say to us “Get ready. Four weeks from now, the world will shut down.” We found ourselves on a journey that most of us were totally unprepared for, in a wilderness for which we had no plan, and whether we were trying to educate our children, or worship, or tend to our daily needs, we had to make do with what we had. Sometimes that felt like the equivalent of wrapping a newborn baby in scraps of cloth and placing him in a feeding trough because that was what was available.
And yet, over and over again, the Christ Child was born in our midst. Stars shined with the bright light of Christ, angels sang of God’s glory, and shepherds told the story of God’s love and presence with us to make sure we did not miss the birth. Sometimes that light was an encouraging card or text from a friend that connected us with each other, the song was the sweet voices of our young choristers that took us beyond ourselves, and the story was one of the community coming together in the face of tragedy, all reminders of Emmanuel, God with Us. Other times we found ways to be the song of the angels in a world we could not enter, providing futons for Family Promise, or medical care through Open M in Akron, or hope for victims of domestic violence, or something so simple as laundry detergent for people in need in Hudson.
The Good News of Christmas is not that the Christ Child is born only when we have had four weeks of Advent to prepare, the house is decorated, the gifts are wrapped under the tree, and Christmas dinner is in the oven as wonderful and predictable as all of those things are. The Good News of Christmas is the promise that the Christ Child will be born in our midst at inconvenient times, when life seems totally out of our control, we are scared and frustrated, when we don’t have a plan and we don’t think we have the skills we need to survive. The promise of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us absolutely always. That, my friends, is why we celebrate Christmas in July.