A meditation given on December 24, 2021, by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
For 61 years the power and profundity of this night have amazed me so. As a child sitting on the sofa looking at the Atlanta winter night, I would stare, searching the twinkling starlit sky above. Back then I was full of awe and wonder and believed in the magic of Christmas. As I became older, the awe and wonder never really left but their sense of presence seemed to fade somewhat. In their place settled a spirit of busyness and rush. The nights of awe and wonder melted into fulfilling obligations whether in terms of giving gifts or showing up someplace during the frenetic season. The magic of Christmas had very subtlety moved from the power of the newborn King to Santa Clause, from the manger to the mall.
I’m grateful that I have grown up somewhat since then. They say that the older you become the more you regress into childhood, and this has happened to me at Christmastime. I find that the older I become, the more I realize how much I dislike malls; Christmastime is a time for me to go hunting for the gift of the manger and listen for the little baby coo and wiggle for the warmth of his mother. I suppose one could say that with each passing year, I am growing back into Christmas.
The Welsh have a word that I think describes how we are feeling this time of year. The word is hiraeth (here-eyeth). It’s a noun and it describes a feeling a person has who possesses a mixture of longing and yearning for the past and the way things used to be; it’s a type of homesickness found deep in your soul and it’s tinged with a little touch of grief over the times and experiences lost to the past and the departed. Yes, the older we become, Christmas births within in each of us a deep sense of hiraeth.
We long for the Christmases of yesterday, either the ones we had or wish we had. It’s a longing for the life that we think we remember that was simpler and more grounded. Yet, Christmas also evokes a spiritual hiraeth within us, which in all honesty, is what Christmas is all about in the first place. We listen to the Christmas stories, watch the kids enact the birth of baby Jesus, smile at the children dressed as angels. We sing familiar carols and are taken by the hand of the spirit and are led back to what Christmas is all about. We suspend our callous, stubborn hearts and once again open our spirit to the possibility, to the reality, that unto us this day, in the City of David, Christ was born.
Beloved, we live in a world of shootings, pandemics, horrific storms, and where there are wars and rumors of war. But tonight, this holy night, we practice hiraeth.
Tonight, we go back home again, longing and looking for those reminders that God is still in control and that God has not left his beloved forsaken.
Tonight, we remember God and how much God loves us enough to become enfleshed and join us in this journey of life.
Tonight, we remind ourselves that God placed his trust in a young girl’s weary and feeble arms to be held, loved, and cared for. Ultimately, the birth of Jesus is God’s active expression of God’s faith in you and me. He allows you and I to care for this child who has no place to rest his head except in your arms and mine.
Friends let’s grow back into Christmas and receive the baby being placed carefully, lovingly, in our arms this night. Revel in the presence, joy, and hope the birth of Jesus provides. Feel him in your arms. Feel him in your heart. Amen.
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.