Hi everyone. Thank you for either attending a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service in person, by zoom or by selecting Emmanuel at Home. 22 months into the pandemic I had certainly hoped we would find ourselves in a different place; but alas, here we are. Unfortunately, like millions of others around the globe and in our country, I have contracted Covid. Following CDC, City of Alexandria, and diocesan guidelines I am staying isolated for another five days. I’m grateful I have what appears to be a very manageable strain of the virus and for those who are suffering greatly from Covid our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you.
It grieves me greatly that for the second year in a row I find myself not celebrating Christmas with you in person; and along with all of you, I thank God for our wonderful parish staff and dedicated volunteers who have worked so hard to make today special for us all. Thank you all.
Even though I am not with you in person, I’d still like to share the thoughts I put together for today’s Christmas homily:
Conveniently located half-way between where we live here in Northern Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, twelve years ago, through good friends of ours, my friend Erin and I discovered The Red Truck Bakery in the historic district of Warrenton, Virginia. The bakery is filled with delicious breads, cakes and pies, and homemade sandwiches perfectly made for a drive through the mountains.
On one particular drive, Erin and I decided we’d hang out in the bakery and enjoy something fresh from the ovens while sitting at the large farm table designed for community gatherings. This was pre-Covid-times. Erin and I placed our order and as Erin was waiting for her cup of coffee, I made my way into the dining area and the only other person sitting at the community table was an elderly woman sitting at one end near the warm kitchen. She saw me enter, scan the room, and with our eyes locked in on each other, I asked her if it would be alright for my friend, Erin, and I, to join her at her end of the table, rather than sitting ten feet away, having our own conversation. The woman readily agreed and told me she’d enjoy the company and conversation. After I sat down Erin soon joined us at the table with her coffee.
I’m not very good at this, but I’d guess the elderly woman was in her late 70’s, maybe early 80’s. She has lived in Warrenton her entire life. Grew up there, never considered leaving and one day discovered the love of her life was right in front of her. They married and set up house and eagerly anticipated beginning a family of their own. They each worked their separate jobs. Enjoyed their lives coming and going among friends, old and new alike. We learned her name is Frances.
Francis learned just about as much about us as we did her, with the conversation hovering somewhere around the 10,000-foot level. Then she looked at us and asked if we had children. Erin shared that she has two adult age children who are now married. From that moment on the conversation dropped from 10,000 feet to within several inches between Erin and Frances as both of their blue eyes locked in on the other. From one mother to another Frances shared, so both of us could hear, about Frances and her husband’s journey with growing their family.
Frances shared that they tried for years to have children of their own but were never successful. They loved each other dearly and wanted desperately to share that love with others. One day Frances learned that a woman who lived on the other side of the mountain was placing a child for adoption. Frances and her husband were fortunate to receive that little boy into their hearts and home.
Frances shared that their son was everything they ever dreamed for. They raised him in the local school system, and if my memory serves me correctly, when he graduated from high school he then went on to William and Mary. When he graduated from college, he returned to the Warrenton area where he married and began a family of his own.
Several years ago, Frances’s son shared with Frances that he had always wanted to meet his birth mother and he asked Frances for her blessing to do so. Frances’s son entered into the process of trying to locate his birth mother and when he was successful, he reached out to her, and discovered, just as he had always heard, still living on the other side of the mountain. They met. Enjoyed each other’s company.
And then one day, while enjoying a conversation with each other, Frances’s son asked Frances if Francis would like to meet his birth mother. Frances enthusiastically said, “Yes, of course.”
On the day the two mothers would meet, the son drove into the birth mother’s driveway, and after he parked the car, he watched as Frances practically ran to meet the woman who had given birth to her son. They fell into each other’s arms. Held on for a very long time.
And then, backing slightly away, while motioning with her own hands, Frances told the birth mother that her son was everything Frances and her husband had ever hoped for in a child. They loved him and raised him as their own. Together they grew as a family. They cared for him and did the very best they could by him. Frances thanked the mother for her gift of entrusting her son to Frances and her husband. Then Frances gestured as if taking her own heart out from within her chest and said to the other mother, “He is my heart. He is everything to me. And now I am putting him right back here in your heart, right where he belongs.” And then they embraced again.
Every time I think of the day we met Francis, my mind goes right back to the story Francis shared and the generosity of her heart, not just to her son, and her son’s birth mother; but also, to Erin and me. We were three perfect strangers, and for some reason, Francis chose to bless us that day. I’ll never forget that day and that story.
Every time I stop in at the Red Truck Bakery, which is far more often than my cardiologists would approve, I look for Frances. I always ask the folks behind the counter if they’ve seen Frances lately and they always smile and say, “Yes, every day.” But unfortunately, our paths have never crossed since.
As I said, I don’t think I will ever forget Frances and the gift she gave to Erin and me that day. Sharing her story of love, and life, and family of origin and family of choice.
And I don’t think I will ever forget the story of Francis and her son. And how over time he learned to straddle the liminal space between his old life and his new.
Today, my friends, depending on which day you are tuning in, today is Christmas Eve / Christmas Day ….
And earlier today I found myself spending some alone time imagining a God who one day made the decision to love us so much that He would choose to come among us as a child. As the Savior of the world. Who does that? Who leaves paradise to come to earth in human form, to be born in a stable surrounded by animals, and shepherds, and wise ones, and angels from on high?
I’m imagining God reaching into God’s Chest, into God’s very Own Sacred Heart and taking God’s Heart out and giving God’s Heart to the world in the person if His Son. As a gift to you. To me. To us … all. A Son who would come with the express purpose of saving us from sin and setting us free, to live life to our full potential, loving God and loving one another.
Today we celebrate God putting His heart inside our hearts. Giving us the capacity to love God and love one another so much that we too would be willing to lay our lives down for another.
May we show the world our love for God and others by what we say and do and by the way we love one another.
Merry Christmas everyone. May God continue to richly bless you this day and every day of your lives.
Stay safe. Stay smart. Stay healthy!
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog