Today we conclude what are very tender days in both the world both secular and Christian.
These tender days are insulated from the real world.
We take time away from school and work to be with one another.
Christmas brings to mind large family meals, singing, gift exchanges and many other images provided to us sometimes by nostalgia and sometimes by advertisements.
Sometimes we even take these twelve days of Christmas to think about God should Bowl Games and Hallmark movies not suffice.
We, sometimes hectically, try to preserve an idyllic image of how Christmas should be.
Such practices make these days sacred.
They are set apart both from the mundane patterns of our life and from the doldrums of a cold and dark time of year.
We protect this time of year commercially, socially, and religiously.
We protect these tender days from the hardness of the real world with more fervor than almost anything else.
I think we protect the them so fiercely because we know how fickle holiday joy can be.
We all know the disappointment of holiday expectations left unmet.
We know the experience of putting on a brave face after receiving the wrong gift.
We know the frustration when a family member says the exact wrong thing.
We know the hollowness of holding our holiday experience up to that of those on TV, Facebook, and many other picture-perfect comparisons and finding our own wanting.
These Twelve Days can be tenuous at the best of times.
But then, there are occasions, when the tenderness meets a hardness beyond our control.
Perhaps, you like me, woke up on Thursday morning with your breath taken away.
Overnight the cadence of the little drummer boy had been replaced with the crude beats of the drums of war.
An airport destroyed. Humans killed. And promises of escalation delivered.
The tenderness of the twelve days met the hardness of a hurting, belligerent, world.
Violence could not be kept waiting.
Vengeance was met so it could perpetuate.
Christmas, it seemed, had gone.
And yet, we are still here with greens, reds, and golds.
Today we read about Joseph waking up to a grim reality himself.
His family was about to meet a deadly persecution unless they took flight as refugees.
So, as quick as they could, the Holy Family hightailed it away from the vindictive King of their land.
The Christ child, due to conditions beyond his control, took to a dangerous road so he could find safety in a foreign land.
On this twelfth tender day we remember that God entered into the world not as a Human with super abilities, nor even has a powerful man, but as a tender baby.
God willingly entered into the hardness of this world as a helpless, dependent, cooing infant.
He did not meet the hardness of the world with his own hardness.
Rather, he met it with a solidarity with the most vulnerable in his own vulnerability.
The Father did not baby proof the world for his Son any more than he did for us.
Love came down at Christmas not into a postcard but into a battle zone, into genocide, into a real world.
God sent him and Jesus came.
I recall a story I heard about England nearly one hundred years ago.
As I remember it, during the First World War, it was the custom in England for people to put a lighted candle in their window for every one of their sons and daughters who had joined the war effort and had risked their lives for freedom from fear and the threat of domination by a foreign power.
It seems that one cold Christmas Eve, after the Christmas liturgy at the parish church, a typically English father was strolling home with his young son. As they walked, people began to place lighted candles in their windows.
“Why are they putting candles in the windows?” the little boy asked his father.
“Well, you see, my son, each candle represents a member of that household who has given his or her life into the service of the war; young men and women who may die that you may life in safety and peace.
The boy was greatly impressed, and as little boys will, he made a game out of counting the lighted candles in the windows.
“Look, Daddy!” he cried out, “look over there. There are two candles in that window, and over there, three.”
As they walked along, they came to a vacant lot; there was no house or trees, just a big patch of evening blue sky with the great Northern Star shining clear and bright.
The little boy leaped for joy, clapped his hands, and danced in the street.
“Look, Daddy, look!”
There’s a light in God’s window. God too must have given a child.
God did give a child. Nor a Hercules or even a man, but a tender baby boy.
And while the child he gave was tender, the gesture, the reality of the Word made flesh need not be protected by cookies, breaks, and sentimentality.
It endures without insulation and padding, in fact it casts such things off.
God came not to beat our hardness with a greater hardness.
God came to break our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.
One this twelfth day of Christmas we are not called to fuss over a lost celebration or harden ourselves for dangerous times.
We are called to broken hearts.
We are called to the posture of our savior.
We who have been baptized into the life of the incarnate Word are called to go where he has gone.
If our hearts are with Jesus, they will be with all of those who have and will know the horrors of war.
If our hearts are with Jesus they will not be with the King Herod’s of the world but with those who will be displaced by the hubris, fear, and violence of callous leadership.
The God who came down at Christmas has come close to us.
We who bear the name Christian,
Who may be tempted to distance ourselves from the pain of war,
Who may be called to look away from the horrors of war,
Who may desire to forget about war,
Will be called to meet all of the hardness of the world just as Christ did.
Tender, naked, and vulnerable.
And we do so only in the confidence of the only God who saves us does so by being with us in all of it.