Note: This is "mostly" the sermon I preached on Christmas Day at the 10 AM Service. It was what I intended to say, anyway. I have no idea what I actually said because I preached it from the center aisle without notes and from a 'prepared heart.'
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
This year, my goal was to have every Christmas present wrapped before this service began. That meant, of course, that I had to get all my Christmas shopping done by Sunday evening.
I met both my goals, but I watched a lot of commercial television in the process - it was just mindless "background" noise to keep me company as I wrapped presents.
I rarely watch commercial television - oh, for 'Law and Order' and 'ER' on Thursday nights. I do catch the local weather if there's a storm coming or a local tragedy, but for the most part, I get my news from BBC and CNN.
I guess they don't call it 'commercial television' for nothing. There are LOTS of commercials on commercial television. Lots. TONS.
And, the interesting part is that they keep playing the same two or three in a ten minute period. You'd have to be an idiot not to get the message. Which, I guess is the point, right?
The commercial for one luxury car is quite clever. There's a male and female version. The male involves his memory of getting a Hot Wheel for Christmas which was "The Best Christmas Present Ever," which morphs into his getting this luxury car for Christmas.
The one for the woman is an interesting stereotype: She remembers getting a pony and screaming with delight so long and so loud that the next door neighbors come running over. The Best Christmas Present Ever is not only the pony, but the envy on her friend's face as she realizes she got a pony for Christmas. Fast forward to Christmas morning with her imagining how her girlfriends are going to be green with envy when they see her new luxury car.
That inspired my own Christmas memory.
I didn't envy Dale Evans. I was in love with Dale Evans.
I wanted to be Dale Evans. Dale Evans was a girl and yet she could do everything a boy could do. She could ride a horse - her horse, Buttermilk (I can't believe I actually remember that) - and not side-saddle, either. She could shoot a gun from her holster just as fast as a boy could. She was smart and she could get the bad guys.
She could also cook and be a good wife to her husband, Roy Rogers. She didn't even have his name. She had her very own name, her very own identity, thank you very much, and yet it was clear that she loved Roy and loved being a woman - soft spoken yet very strong. She was the prototype of the 'feminist' of the 70's and 80's.
I wanted to be just like Dale Evans.
So, when my parents bought me a Dale Evans outfit for Christmas, well, I was over the moon! It had a skirt and vest with real fringe, and a cowboy girl shirt, and a ten-gallon hat and yes, a gun and a holster.
When I put that outfit on, I WAS Dale Evans. At least, in my imagination.
It wasn't until April or May, however, when the weather started to get nice again, that I ventured out to play one Saturday morning dressed as Dale Evans. The reaction was interesting. Most of the girls thought it was really cool and they wanted one, too. That's a good kind of envy - you know, the kind that is the best compliment.
It was Maureen, one of the more affluent kids in the neighborhood, however, whose reaction surprised me. It was envy - raw and green. If she could have ripped that outfit off me, she would have and left me standing there naked and humiliated.
Maureen didn't talk to me for weeks and I didn't understand why. I mean, if she wanted her own Dale Evans outfit, all she had to do was ask her parents and they would have gone right out and gotten it for her that very day.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I began to understand.
Laura, our financial coordinator said to me, "You know, I saw you in your little VW bug convertible the other day. You had the top down, the radio up and you were singing your lungs out."
I laughed and said something like, "I know. I'm probably an embarrassment to the church, right?"
"No, actually," she said thoughtfully, "we hate you. It's not that we hate you because you have a VW Bug convertible. We could afford to have our own if we wanted one."
"We hate you," she said, "because it's so clear that you absolutely LOVE that convertible bug. We hate you because you can be so happy with so little."
I learned something then, about envy. The destructive part of envy is when we want to take away that which makes other people happy. It's not the things they have that we want, necessarily. We want their happiness.
Real envy, I've come to understand, flows from a very unhappy heart. It is the bitter fruit of discontent and insecurity. It's not so much a sentiment that says, "If I'm not happy, you can't be happy either." It's more, "Maybe if I have what you have, I can be happy, too. But, I can be the only one to have this, so I must take it away from you."
Which brings me to the Nativity Scene in Bethlehem this morning. There is no greater happiness than being who you are and doing what it is God has called you to do. "Things" don't - can't - do that for you.
Even the dumb sheep and the lowly shepherds recognized the miracle of birth when they saw it. The story of the Three Wise Men reminds us that they were wise because they recognized and celebrated the birth of the newborn king and didn't try to ruin the beauty and gift of the moment for this new family.
There would be other kings who would become consumed with the insecurity which envy brings and try to take away the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for others.
But right now, in this moment in the Story of the Life of Jesus, there is no envy. There is no greed. There is no avarice. There is only the newborn miracle of divine, heavenly bliss.
There is nothing under your tree that will bring you that kind of happiness. It's what's around your tree, the family and friends in your home that will bring you that kind of bliss.
I hope you go home after this service and enjoy the real presents in the presence of those whom you love. For, that's what Christmas is all about.
Merry Christmas, dear friends. Merry Christmas, Dale Evans. Thanks for the memory and the lessons you taught me.
It's pretty amazing, isn't it, what deep thoughts you can get from the mindless activity of wrapping presents and watching commercial television?
Everything has a hidden gift. If you keep your heart as open as a child, everything holds the potential to connect us to the possibility of a miracle.