The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Christmas Eve 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.




May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Merry Christmas everyone!  It’s so good to be with you this evening.

This fall I took a film course taught by Gareth Higgins and Kathleen Norris.  It was a great opportunity that would not have been available to me if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic.

One of the films we discussed was After Life by Hirokazu Kore-eda which is available on Youtube.[1]  The premise of the film is that after you die, you are given three days to choose one memory from your life. That memory will be the only thing you are allowed to take with you into your afterlife.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help wondering what memory I would pick if I was ever in that situation. Should I choose the moment where I felt the happiest? What would that even be? Maybe I should pick a milestone like my wedding or my ordination in order to be able to include the maximum number of loved ones in a single memory. But I wouldn’t be able to include everyone, and the nature of those events tends to be that while you are glad that everyone is there, you’re so busy with the ceremonial aspect of celebrating a milestone that is no time for a sustained meaningful conversation with anyone.   Maybe it would be better to focus on a feeling – when have I feel the most contented, or at peace?

I thought about this for quite some time, long after the movie ended and I just couldn’t decide. So then I thought, OK, if you can’t figure out what single memory you’d choose from your entire life, how about just thinking about Christmas. If you had to pick a single Christmas memory, what would it be?

Christmas is a season filled with memories that are built on the power of repeated rituals.  Every year at Christmas I… you can fill in the blanks.  This year – in what is a truly unusual Christmas I will actually still be able to do many of those things – my home is decorated with the same decorations, I will eat the same foods, watch the same movies, and connect with all the same people – albeit this year over Zoom.

These are good memories and also good things to do again this year.  But I think if I had to pick one memory, one thing I wanted to remember about Christmas forever, it would be a memory that took place in this building.

It would start with bundling up to head into the cold to try and get here, to this church building,  to get here early enough to get a good seat and then spreading out my coat to save space for my parents to join us. It would include the comforting feeling of siting in the near dark while looking at the warm glow of the lights from the Christmas tree and the choir stalls finally all lit up after four weeks of waiting through Advent.  It would be the way that the space would gradually fill with the sound of other people quietly trying to take their seats until there were no seats left.

And then there would be the whooshing noise as we all stood up, and Jamie would come carrying a candle and walk up the center aisle of the church stopping at each pew to light the first person’s candle who would then turn to their neighbour to light their candle and the warm glow would spread throughout the room.

And we’d all be singing Silent Night.

That’s it, that would be the memory. Standing in the middle of this building surrounded by all of you and the comforting safety of the dark and the warm glow of the candles singing Silent Night.

If I could only have one Christmas memory, that would be it.

What would yours be?

What memory do you suppose Mary would choose? Or Joseph? The Shepherds? Jesus?  If they could only choose one memory, would it be a memory connected to Jesus’ birth or something else?

I think Mary would like this question but like me she’d also have a hard time picking just one memory. Scripture tells us that she was the kind of person who liked to reflect on the events of her life. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Would she choose the moment when she was minding her own business and an angel appeared to tell her that God had a plan that would change her life forever?  The wave of fear, and then awe, and then resolve as she listened and then consented to be a part of that plan?

Would it be a quiet moment not recorded in the gospels? The first time she felt Jesus kick? A conversation with her own mother? The feeling of excitement as she gathered swaddling clothes and other things this new life would need?

Perhaps it would be the feel of the warm glow of the fire as she and Elizabeth spent yet another night staying up late and sharing their hopes and dreams for their unborn children.

Or maybe it would be the look on Joseph’s face when he came to tell her he finally understood and accepted what was happening. That he loved her and this child and would be with them no matter what happened.

How about the first time she held her son and he wrapped his pudgy fingers around hers? His shaky first steps?

Or maybe Mary would choose a memory that took place late in the evening after Jesus had fallen asleep and she and Joseph would quietly talk about their days.

 What would Joseph choose?  The feeling of love and pride that swelled up until he thought his heart would burst as Mary gave birth to their son?  Teaching Jesus how to look carefully at a piece of wood, to notice the grooves and the grain, and then to transform it into something beautiful?  The sound of Jesus’ peals of laughter when they had a tickle fight?

How about the shepherds?  Imagine it. There you were, just a lady minding your own business. And yes, despite what you have been led to believe by Nativity sets and Christmas specials and church pageants,  shepherding was a family job so there were women and children tasked with taking care of the sheep. So there you were, just a lady minding your own business, maybe struggling to stay warm or stay awake and suddenly an angel appears and you feel yourself wrapped in the blanket of God’s glory and you have never been more awake or more terrified in your entire life. And then you hear the angel say:

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom [God] favors!”   (10-14)

And you and your fellow shepherds rush off to find Mary, Joseph and this child and you don’t really understand what is happening but you can tell that with the birth of this child a new way of being has been ushered in the world because this child, who was heralded by God’s angels not to the powerful and the wealthy but to you and your family, this child lying in a humble place, a place that looks a lot more like where you live than where a king lives. This child is a king like no king you have ever known.  Something is changing, more than just a child has been born this night.

And the joy and the awe and the excitement burst forth as you tell everyone you meet about what you have seen that night.

A night you would never, ever forget.

And Jesus, what about Jesus?  I’m not sure I want to try and guess what one memory Jesus would choose if he had to pick a single one, but I was recently reading a lovely children’s book called Jesus Grows Up and it got me thinking about the impact of Jesus’ childhood on his earthly ministry as an adult.[2]

In this story, the young Jesus watches his father Joseph light a lamp each evening, and he notices that Joseph doesn’t hide the lamp, but rather places it up high in a prominent position so the light can fill the whole room.

Jesus watches his mother make bread and observes how the yeast makes the dough rise so that the bread becomes light and fluffy and tastes delicious.

He watches how the shepherds all around Nazareth care for their sheep, even going so far as to leave 99 of their sheep to find one that has been lost.

He watches farmers sewing seed in their fields and later noticed how some seeds grow, and some do not.

He discovers how fun it can be when the whole village gathers together to share a feast, and how that feast is so much better when everyone is included.

All of these experiences helped to shape him and he took those memories with him when he ventured out into the world. And he turned those memories into the parables he shared with the people who slowly began to follow him wherever he went.

Those memories shaped Jesus. Our memories shape us too. I suspect Christmas 2020 is one we will always remember.  I’ve heard some people say that Christmas this year is a write off or it’s been cancelled but that’s not the case.

Our celebrations look different this year but the reason for those celebrations is still the same. The Christmas story is all about how God loved each one of us so much that they wanted to be near us, they wanted to be with us and nothing could stop them.  God’s love is unstoppable. God’s love cannot be cancelled.

Years from now I hope we will sit around our Christmas trees and say, “Remember Christmas 2020? Such a strange year that was! But we still found ways to remember that Jesus, Immanuel, God with Us was born.  We still found ways to celebrate, to reach out, to show love.”

Merry Christmas everyone.  Jesus is born. God is here.  We have much to be thankful for, much to celebrate, and much to ponder for years to come.

In the name of the Triune God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.



[2] Jesus Grows Up by Pilar Paris, Josep M Lozano and Maria Rius