Luke 2 and Matthew 2 (NRSV)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – December 24, 2015
Christmas Eve Reflection
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Well, it’s finally here.
Our four weeks of waiting and hoping … waiting and healing … waiting and looking for joy and peace … it all boils down to tonight: A night for remembering … a night for looking ahead … a night for family, and where friends BECOME family … a HOLY night.
Tonight is NOT the night for us to debate “what really happened.” It’s not a night to talk about the DIFFERENCES in the Luke and Matthew narratives. It’s not the time for us to look HISTORICALLY at how Jesus was probably NOT born on December 25th or to wonder if they really had SNOW.
It’s a time for us to be HERE and to welcome the birth of something new and different in our lives — maybe it’s an attitude or an outlook – maybe it’s a commitment to try to do something different in our lives (to CARE a little more … to FEAR a little less). Whatever it is, this is a night to ask the Universe … God … Creator … Higher Power … River of Energy … whatever language you use to represent that which is greater than we are … to put out there a WILLINGNESS on our part to be CHANGED. To become NEW. And to let the STORY touch us in a new way.
Now I’m convinced that one reason stories are so influential in our lives is because we relate to the people IN them and so for a few minutes I’m going to ask you … who are YOU in the story tonight? At different times in our lives we can probably relate to each of these characters in a different way. So … who are you TONIGHT?
There is, of course, MARY. Unwed, teenage mother … forced to ride a donkey for DAYS in the final week of her pregnancy. Young girl. Probably 13 or 14. Carrying this new life and putting her OWN life at risk by saying “YES!” to God. She could have been STONED to death for being unwed and pregnant. And surely people knew in her home town. There were no secrets from your neighbors. They knew she wasn’t MARRIED, and they could see that she was PREGNANT.
Was she scared? Was she the object of ridicule? Did people talk about her and point at her when she walked by? What was it like for this young girl to deliver her first baby without her mother and midwives around her? She was ALONE.
Did you feel alone and scared? Judged by others? Focusing on just one thing at a time too survive but driven by your sense of what you’re supposed to do? If so … Mary’s your gal.
Or how about JOSEPH. HIS reputation was on the line, man. People were certainly talking about HIM … especially when Mary got pregnant and he chose to stay with her, thus putting HIS life between her and anyone who would stone her to death. What would it take to accept a child growing within your fiancée, knowing it wasn’t your own? Maybe some of you have done that.
He ADOPTED this child as his own. Some of us know the joy of that gift. Joseph is OUR guy! Faithful. Trying to do what’s right and protect those he loves. Following the law by going to Bethlehem so he could enroll his family in the census … running a small business … being a blue collar tradesman, but saying “YES!” to God even when it was hard to believe what the angel was telling him.
Do YOU feel that way sometimes?
Or how about the SHEPHERDS. Probably men AND women. Sheep herding was considered an ultra-low class job in those days. They were ritually unclean. And yet the shepherds around Bethlehem were most likely the ones entrusted to raise the sheep that would be used as sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were charged to keep them safe and unblemished … talk about PRESSURE on the job! And then they, themselves, weren’t allowed into the Temple without an ELABORATE cleansing ritual. I think of domestic workers, seasonal farm workers, and nannies today – used by those with power and money and kept “in their place” through economic and social injustice.
And here they are … the lowest of the low. Out on a hillside and an angel of GOD appears to THEM? The first announcement of this birth is to those whom society has cast out and handed off one of the dirtiest, filthiest jobs to. Talk about God evening the playing field. They were the FIRST to hear about the birth.
Disenfranchised? Taken advantage of? Totally forgotten in the WORLD? The Shepherds are your people. And what did they do? They listened to the message and they did what their hearts TOLD them to do. They, too, said “YES!” to God and left their sheep!!! It had to be pretty important and powerful an experience to get them to do THAT, don’t you think?
They left their flocks to go to their shepherd.
Maybe tonight you can identify with them …
Or maybe tonight you are so filled with Love and Excitement (whether it’s about Jesus … or about being home with family … or just about being on vacation and knowing that Santa is going to come in a little while) that you can’t CONTAIN your excitement and joy! Then tonight, it’s the ANGEL that you can identify with.
THINK of that … going to people you don’t know and carrying the EXCITEMENT that the Prince of PEACE is born into HUMAN form. Sharing the MESSAGE that God LOVES us so MUCH that we are INVITED to SEE that love and that HOPE in EVERY little baby that is born into the world!!!
There are the ANIMALS. THEY played a role, didn’t they? THEY welcomed the strangers into THEIR home. They gave up their FOOD so the baby would have a place to sleep. They kept the humans warm with their bodies and their breath. Their SOUNDS comforted the scared mother delivering her first child with nobody around to coach and help her. BIRTHING? They’d done it many times. You know the TV commercial for Lactaid where the cow does a “hoof bump” with the human at the end of it? That’s how I picture the animals with Mary. “That a way, kid” … “Way ta go, girl.” And their sounds were HIS first lullaby.
Sometimes all we can do is just BE PRESENT. To WITNESS. And that’s our role. That’s what the animals did.
But there are sometimes when we are just not ABLE to welcome Jesus or God or FAITH into our lives. We think that there’s no room for them around our doubts and questions, and we are like the INNKEEPER. In those times we need to remember that he didn’t TOTALLY abandon the possibility of new life and a new way of being in the world. He was just full up inside … so he offered a place nearby. A place where there was shelter and where he could venture out to check in periodically.
Some of us are at that point with our faith right now. “My life’s kinda full right now … but I don’t want you to totally leave, God … so how about it you stay close, do what you have to do, and I’ll come and check in every so often.”
Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of the Innkeeper.
Providing hospitality and welcoming the sacred as best he could. And the lesson for us who are feeling that way is that IT’S GOOD ENOUGH. He did his part! And it turned out to be an important part of the story, didn’t it? We don’t have to beat ourselves up if we feel like we’re not very close to God right now. (I know some of you just came tonight because of family pressure. It’s ok … the sacred is always nearby. Just remember to check in every once in a while.)
We don’t know how many other inns Mary and Joseph may have stopped at FIRST before they ever got to THIS one. How many times had they been turned away? But THIS Innkeeper found room in his compassionate heart to CREATE a space for hope and possibility to be born into the world.
And let’s not forget the people who won’t arrive until AFTER the fact … the MAGI. We sometimes call them KINGS. They were most likely holy people … scientists and believers in the esoteric religion of Zoroaster. They were from Iran. The SAME Iran whom many of us condemn today. They were SEEKERS.
They are the people in this story who were NOT Jewish … who didn’t believe in the Jewish God, but who still recognized that Jesus came with ideas that would change the WORLD. And they traveled for MONTHS following a sign that they said they could understand and which led them directly to him.
How many were there?
We don’t really know.
We know they brought three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) but did one person carry all three gifts? Did 20 people come with three gifts? If they were wealthy enough to be able to afford to come that distance with those expensive gifts, they probably had an entourage. There were probably men AND woman.
But SYMBOLLICALLY … they were SEEKING something to change the world. And they were ACTIVE in their search. They didn’t sit around waiting for the answers to come to THEM … they took PART in the search. They were responsible for their own JOURNEY.
At this point in MY life, they’re my faves! Nobody could make the journey FOR them … they had to say “YES!” to following their quest themselves. They were precursors of Don Quixote.
Maybe that’s you, too … or maybe that’s who you’re being CALLED to become.
But there’s one person left that we haven’t talked about yet … the Little One … the Bambino. JESUS. “Oh, I could NEVER be HIM, Pastor Deb. He’s GOD’s child.”
So are you. So am I!
God is present in EACH ONE OF US!!!
And we ALL start out in our faith as newborns. We don’t know ANYTHING. Our lives are a BLANK SLATE but our families, our friends, our faith communities … and LIFE … they teach us what we need to know. And then … every once in a while … we ARE the presence of Light and Hope … we SHARE the presence of Love and PEACE in the world. One person at a time. One hug or one smile at a time.
We BECOME that which we were BORN to be … part of the LIFE-FORCE of the planet … part of the LIVING GOD (however you define that undefinable reality). Christians would say that we’re “baptized into Christ and grafted onto him.” Others would say that we become one with the Energy of the Universe. Some others would use language about “being in the Flow” or “the Force being with you.”
It’s all the same.
That’s the thing. We all have to figure out how to translate it into our own language.
The thing is … this is a holy night when we claim this archetypal story (with all of its permutations and translations) as OURS. We see where we fit in and we CHOOSE to say “YES!” and to BELIEVE that things can be better … that they CAN be different … that we can CHOOSE to not be afraid … that we can CHOOSE love over hate, and PEACE over warfare – whether it’s warfare with another country … another PERSON … or warfare within OURSELVES.
Tonight’s the night it can change … If we let it, a new way can be born within us.
And that goes for us as INDIVIDUALS … it goes for us as a NEIGHBORHOOD … as a CITY … as a COUNTRY … as the PLANET …
And it goes for us as a CHURCH. “Who Are We, Anyway?”
We ARE this story.
May God help us to claim it as our own in a new way this night. Merry Christmas!