December 24, 2017 — Christmas Eve
Rev. Alison Quin
I had the opportunity to go to New York City about a week and a half ago. New York at Christmas time is quite an experience. There are holiday markets, street vendors selling hot chestnuts, beautifully designed shop windows and decorations everywhere. And the lights! The city is lit up at Christmas—the Empire State building has red and green lights, the top of the Chrysler building has white lights. Buildings wrapped with a giant red ribbon made of lights so that it looked like a big present. Another building had cats climbing up the side of it and relaxing on the roof. And of course, Rockefeller Center is spectacular with the tree, the ice skaters and all the other lights. Everything speaks of the creativity and the sheer pizzazz that the city is known for.
But the shadow side of all that sparkle is the rampant materialism of our culture. It’s not just the $10,000 watches or shoes and bags that cost enough to pay rent for an entire family. It’s the sheer excess of our culture. Almost all of us consume too much. If the whole world consumed at the rate that North Americans consume, we would need at least four more Earth-sized planets to supply the necessary natural resources. Even though we have somewhat reduced our consumption in recent years, we still consume far more than our share and far more than we need, with devastating environmental and political consequences.
So, Tim and I headed back to Port Authority with mixed feelings—filled with a sense of irony about the way we celebrate Jesus’ birth into subsistence level poverty. It seemed fitting to head back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal after reveling in the glow of Rockfeller Center.
Port Authority was noticeably tense that night, because it was only three days after an ISIS supporter exploded a pipe bomb during the morning commute. People were on edge and watching each other more than usual. The police were everywhere with larger guns than usual.
This was only the latest episode in a year of violence—we long for peace, and yet we do not take action to reduce the violence in our society.
These somber thoughts were interrupted by strains of music—there are always musicians playing at Port Authority—everything from Andean flute music to classical cello. When Tim and I got down to the subway platform, a young man was playing an old Buddy Holly tune called “Well, Alright.”
He was pretty good and we were enjoying listening to him. I went over and put a dollar into his guitar case. I was completely caught off guard by his sign. It said, “If you are homeless or in need, take as much as you need from the case (I just like to play). At the bottom , it said #hopeful cases.” I hurried back and told Tim about it, and he went up and put a dollar in as well and asked if he could take a picture of the sign. Both of us had tears in our eyes as we watched as someone came and took some of the money and the young man nodded and smiled at the person.
Later I googled #hopefulcases to find out more about this young man. I found an interview with him from a local news station. He is a graduate of Ithaca College, an actor and a musician. He visited Honduras, one of the poorest countries in this hemisphere, and was very impressed by the way people took care of each other there. He came back wanting to emulate what he saw in Honduras. He wanted to connect with people more, and he wanted to change the culture of giving. Specifically, he wanted to take the judgment out of giving. He reviewed his skills and gifts, which he felt were limited. But he decided to play his guitar and sing—he would do what he loves. So he made that sign and started giving money away. He makes about $100 an hour and people come and take what they need. Any leftover funds go to buy single ride metro cards for people who need them. He says this project has changed his life and his outlook. He has met people that he would never have guessed were in need, and he has heard countless stories of amazing lives. His goal is “to spread the idea that if you see someone in need, give. That homeless/struggling person…is somebody’s brother, sister, mother, daughter etc.” Give without judgment—honor the dignity of every person.
When the interviewer asked him where he learned to give like that, he said that he grew up in the Armenian Apostolic Church. He said, it’s an old school type of church—give, give, give.
Jesus came into the world to give, give, give. He was born into a world of fear and violence and greed, but his heart was open to all people. He gave to all who were in need, whether they needed healing or food or comfort or forgiveness. He gave without judgment, and he gave not out of duty but out of joy. He gave because he wanted to. He gave because he loves us.
Here is the message of Christmas: God adores us. If we really took in how much God loves us, we would not be afraid and we would stop chasing after material things. God was born into the world that night in Bethlehem to prove God’s love for us. God made a home among us and will never leave us. God is within us and among us, showing us what it really means to be human, to be a child of God.
When we open our hearts to receive God’s overflowing love, fear is banished and we become whole and free and fully alive. As Christ’s beloved, we shine with his light—the brilliant light that has come into the world, that the darkness cannot overcome. And then we have a great gift to share with the whole aching longing world.
Like that young man in the subway, we can follow Jesus in giving our gifts joyfully and freely, without judgment, embracing each person as our mother, father, sister or brother.
God is transforming the world, one person at a time, illuminating each heart and bringing reconciliation, peace and joy. And God has given us a part to play in that transformation. We are to love with God’s love, and give the gifts God has given us, joyfully and freely, without judgment, embracing each person as our mother, father, sister or brother. In this way, we help spread the light of Christ—that light that shone at a humble birth long ago and continues to radiate outward, brighter and brighter, until the whole world is a blaze of light and all of God’s people are free.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Even the lights of NYC can’t compare! Merry Christmas and Amen!