Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 2011.
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Silent night. Holy night.
There is something about the silence of night that brings out the deepest questions of our heart. Questions that are so deep, that make us so vulnerable that we are afraid to speak them not only to each other but even to ourselves. Afraid to speak them because we are afraid of what the answers might be.
And of all the questions that come out to tug at our hearts at night, perhaps none is stronger or deeper than this one:
Am I loved?
Am I loved?
We try to pretend the question isn’t there for lots of reasons.
We pretend it isn’t there because when we acknowledge it, we’re so aware of how much we need someone other than ourselves, and that scares us.
We pretend it isn’t there because everyone else looks like they have it so together and we don’t want to be the weird, insecure person who is asking questions like “Am I loved?”
We pretend it isn’t there because secretly, in places that don’t come out in the light of day, we’re afraid the answer might be … no.
And really, can you blame us? It’s so hard for us to trust that the answer to “Am I loved?” is yes. We keep asking it because so much in life teaches us not to trust the answer is yes.
For every experience of unconditional love we have, we have countless others that tempt us not to trust it, that tempt us to trust instead that love is transactional and conditional. That if we don’t hide certain pieces of ourselves, love will be taken away or it will never come. That we’re not worthy of love as who we really are, and that we trust in love at our own peril.
And so from the earliest of ages we learn to cope and suppress. To pretend it’s all OK and silently guard and hide those pieces of ourselves that we are sure are unlovable. To treasure those moments of unconditional love but never to truly trust them. And to try not to think about it too much.
And yet in the silence of the night that question comes. The question that draws us together tonight. And it is in the silence of the night that we get our answer. And that is why we are here on this silent night. This holy night.
Am I loved?
The Bible is a lot of things. It was written over 1500 years by at least 40 authors, including kings, scholars, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, historians and doctors. It is history, poetry, law, prophecy, letters and a whole bunch of really freaky stuff. But if you have to say the Bible is one thing, it’s a love story. An epic love story. It is the story of millennia of God’s people struggling with the question “Am I loved?” and of God trying desperately to convince us that the answer is … YES.
Like all love stories, God’s epic love affair with us is a story of passion and frustration. Of adoration, rejection, pursuit and reunion. God creates us out of love and loves us dearly and desperately. And from the moment of creation, all God has ever wants is for us to trust in that love. Trust in that love and be able to live extraordinary fearless lives because we are so secure that the answer to “Am I loved?” is Yes.
And yet deep inside, a voice us says, “Yeah … right.”
Deep inside, we never seem to get it. Read the Old Testament. The Hebrew scriptures are one, long, crazy story of this. One long crazy story of God’s passion for us and God’s frustration with us not being able to trust in God’s love. One long, crazy story of adoration, rejection, pursuit and reunion … only to have us fall away again. Of God saying “please trust me, I love you.” And for just a moment of us believing it … only to have us fall away again because we couldn’t believe that God really meant it. We couldn’t believe that God’s love was really unconditional and really for us, that we were really that lovable. We couldn’t believe that we could truly trust in this love and not need anything else. Until one night, God had had enough. Until one night, one silent, holy night, God laid it all on the line and did something different.
More than 20 years ago, on Robin’s and my first date, we saw another great love story --- When Harry Met Sally. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Two people who have each been burned by love and who are desperately in love with each other but are afraid to trust because they are afraid of being burned again. Afraid of hearing one more time the answer to “Am I loved?” is no. If we’re honest, it’s the story of all of us.
And finally, it all comes to a head in this one scene right at the end of the movie. Harry has been trying to reach out to Sally but she keeps pulling away and finally he’s had enough. It’s New Year’s Eve just minutes before midnight and Harry races through the streets of New York trying to reach the party where Sally is to tell her that he loves her before the clock strikes twelve.
And he gets there, running up the stairs and breathless, he gets there and he bares his soul and tells her he loves her, and still she resists – she just can’t bring herself to trust his love. And Harry is desperate. He loves her so much and he just can’t get her to trust. “I love you,” he says. And you can just feel the passion as he pleads with her: “Doesn’t what I said mean anything to you?”
And you can hear the pain in Sally’s voice, the pain of all the times she’s learned not to trust in love. You can just taste the pain when she says, “I’m sorry Harry. I know it’s New Year’s Eve, I know you’re feeling lonely, but you just can’t show up here, tell me you love me and expect that to make everything all right. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Well how does it work?” Harry says.
And Sally, almost in tears, says, “I don’t know but not this way.”
And then Harry says this:
“Well how about this way. I love that you get cold when it's seventy one degrees out, I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich, I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts, I love that after I spend a day with you I can still smell your perfume on my clothes and I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Years Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of the life to start as soon as possible.”
That’s God’s answer to us this silent, holy night. God knows we’re crazy. God knows we’re far from perfect. God knows we’re quirky and messy and that we make a million mistakes before breakfast. God knows we get cold when it’s seventy one degrees out and it takes us an hour and a half to order a sandwich. God loves us in spite of it and God loves us because of it. There is nothing that can change the answer to “Am I loved?” to anything but YES.
And so Christmas is God saying “enough!” I’m tired of leaving messages on your answering machine hoping you’ll return my calls. I’m tired of trying to reach you through prophets and sages, judges and kings. I’m not messing around any more. I’m coming down there to share life with you … in all its messiness and in all its holy imperfection. I’m going to become one of you. Emmanuel. God with you. That’s how much I love you.
Christmas is “When YHWH Met Sally” and we are all Meg Ryan. Christmas is God grabbing us and looking deep into our eyes and saying, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.”
Beloved, this silent night, the question doesn’t have to haunt us anymore. This holy night, the Son of God, love’s pure light, invites us, pleads with us to trust that he loves us more deeply than we can possibly imagine. To trust in that love and be able to start tonight an extraordinary rest of our lives together … secure that the answer to “Am I loved?” is Yes.