This will be a sign for you...
Christmas Eve Family Service
December 24, 2007
Christmas Eve Family Service
December 24, 2007
Let us pray: O God of signs and wonders, guide these words, that they may tell of you. Amen.
†† †And this will be a sign for you, the angels said, in an effort to help calm the terrified shepherds. They had just been blasted out of their nighttime watchfulness - calmed already with the assurance that the glory that shone all around them was nothing but good and joyous news. They might have expected something a bit more showy - given the showiness that had already interrupted their usual nighttime routine - more used to visits from prowling wolves or silly sheep that wandered away in search of forage.
†† †I canít really say that Iíve ever experienced anything quite the way the incident is described - the glory of God shining all around me. Thatís not to say there havenít been moments of insight - brief instances which allowed me a glimpse of something deep and powerful, and even longer periods when I felt powerfully in the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I can imagine that if something ever did happen the way it is described, that I would expect the next words to be a description that invited superlative words and magnificent sights. If I were one of those shepherds after such a glorious and frightening interruption I donít think I would expect the sign to be a simple, almost embarrassingly earthy description of a baby in a stable wrapped in pieces of cloth.
†† †It describes at once the irony and the beauty of this night. People everywhere, in practically every corner of the world are gathering to celebrate that simple birth under difficult circumstances, described so humbly but with such a glorious beginning. We should have been forewarned when it was shepherds that received the news - not the political leaders of the day, not the head of state, not the business tycoons or beauty queens, the movie stars or sports heroes - but simple people doing a hard and thankless job, and probably ones whom you would even be unlikely to meet during the daylight hours - given that their work took them to the fields at night.
†† †It all should be a sign for us as well - God meets us in humble situations and unlikely occasions - well, sort of, because it is not really God who is meeting us, but we who are meeting God - given that we believe in God who is always with us. So the humble situations and unlikely occasions are not opportunities for God to break through to us - but times when our awareness or readiness is such that we become aware of Godís presence among us.
†† †Christmas celebrates the birth of Emmanuel - God with us - not God with us in certain moments and special occasions - God with us in everything we do and everywhere we are.
†† †On this Christmas Eve we celebrate the birth of hope - realised in a child, humbly cradled, simply wrapped, loved by mother and father and as traditions have told us - by a gathering crowd of talking animals, curious shepherds and chorusing angels and the birth of hope realised in that same child who grew into one who could so deftly and pointedly help people to see many more signs of the way in which God was present in their lives, by telling stories, in actions that lived out forgiveness and acceptance and who could also expose hypocrisy and showiness among those who claimed to have a corner on the right way to be faithful.
†† †On this Christmas Eve we are invited to look for our own signs - to follow the example of Jesus and craft our lives in such a way that we become ever more aware of the way in which God is part of our lives, and ever more ready to be bearers of Godís love and care for the world. God is closer than the air we breathe and God is bigger than our largest imagining.
†† †What signs are there already? Where are the thin places where the glory and presence, the humble earthiness of God is close and waiting to bring meaning and purpose to our lives? What message is God giving us to bring hope to our lives and hope to the world on this night when we gather in the warmth of companionship and community and which we can carry forward in the days that follow? Is there a message that speaks to us of transformation within ourselves and for the world? Is there a sign that shows us a way of peace and love that we hadnít noticed before?
†† †This is the message of Christmas - God with us - is alive, calling us to be Godís people, calling us to be followers of Jesus, calling us to live our lives in awe and wonder - ever ready to follow the signs.
†† †May God bless your Christmas time - with comfort and joy, with happiness and peace, with insight and courage. Merry Christmas everyone. Amen.
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