The Pas Christmas Eve
24 December 2017
Psalm 96 pg 834
as we prepare with joy
to celebrate the gift of the Christ-child,
embrace the earth with your glory
and be for us a living hope
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today’s gospel, the story of the birth of the Christ child, is one that we know so well, that I wonder, how many of us actually had our eyes open when listening to this so well-known story, this root of our faith in Christ Jesus?
So, how many can tell me when the donkey came into the picture? And who remembers me talking about the arrival of the Wise Men to the manger, tonight, while the shepherds are there, or shortly after the shepherds return to their sheep?
We know this story so well, that, while we hold on to the big moments of the night, we often jumble minor facts, and that we add in things that aren’t necessarily in the original text because it made sense to someone somewhere that a pregnant woman wouldn’t, or shouldn’t walk all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, no matter what the age.
So, we’ve coloured this story with aspects of what makes it appealing, aesthetic, and historically interesting.
I like to read the comic For Better or For Worse, drawn by Lynn Johnston, each day. It takes one family through three generations of family life, and right now the story line is visiting a relative’s farm for the holiday season.
On Wednesday, one of the visiting children was in the barn with her uncle, and was remembering the nativity story, the fact, the circumstances surrounding Jesus birth in the stable in Bethlehem, and being from a non-farming upbringing, the child innocently asks her uncle “did it smell this bad?”
Now, we know that stables have an inherent animal smell, and to someone not used to that odor, it can be described, momentarily, as a bad smell.
At the same time, our imaginations, our ability to create from nothing is so powerful that it literally has the ability to influence tomorrow’s reality.
The comic book illustrators of the 1950’s and 60’s, drawing their science fiction comic books, envisioned the first sketches and designs of what eventually became the space shuttles in the 1970’s to 2000’s.
Hands free telephones, and communicators were a thing of science fiction when I was growing up, and now more people have cellular phones and satellite phones, today, than have home phones.
Or even microwave ovens? Who remembers when the idea of obtaining hot and edible food from a hole in the wall in under 30 minutes was a science fiction fantasy?
Our imaginations have the ability to create our reality, they inspire it for tomorrow, and this is very important not just for the advancement of our society, in general, but especially for our lives of faith.
So, today, I thought we’d look at the night that Jesus is born from perhaps a different context, and maybe see how we can understand Joseph and Mary’s situation through the eyes of our time, yet still through the eyes of our faith.
So, I started by thinking of the oppression they were living under being Jewish yet ruled by the Roman Empire.
And when I contemplated this, I thought how Joseph and Mary can be seen through the eyes of those who live in refugee camps. How does that fit? Joseph and a very pregnant Mary as refugees, along side those fleeing war torn Syria, to name only one of the situations from which those whose lives are in danger from forces who want power and have absolutely no consideration for the existing populations, at this time of the year?
Or those who live outside the camps, yet strive to use the services available to refugees, thinking of refugee settlements and social workers. The uncertainty of life in such situations, for those who are lucky enough to make it to the fences, and through the fences into such relative safety.
But then I remembered this image, on the screen, and I wanted to perhaps look at Mary and Joseph from the perspective of what we would, in north America consider the situation of migrant workers, or street people, or even of runaway teens.
So, if this image is our inspiration, and we see Mary and Joseph consulting a phone book (if one can find a phone book or even a pay phone in today’s society), we see them perhaps looking up shelters in the area, or bargain motels, that may be willing to trade a little work, perhaps some carpentry, or housekeeping services, for a room for the next little while.
When Remi and I took our vacation to Disney World, last year, we made use of KOA Campgrounds, down and back. One night we took a camping cabin, in Tennessee, and in the next cabin was an itinerant carpenter, with his family.
He admitted that work wasn’t steady in any given area, and that he often travelled from job site to job site around the nation. And he spent far too long on the road and away from anyplace they could call home, so he, and his wife, and their three kids, travelled from campground to campground, renting cabins in each location, homeschooling the children, and staying together wherever it is that he could find work.
So perhaps this how we can see Mary and Joseph, in todays day and age. He’s a carpenter looking for work. She’s the love of his life, his bride to be, and she’s expecting their first child, Jesus, the Messiah.
So, looking at the picture, looking at the artists interpretation, where is it, do we think, that they lay their head? Where will the Christ child be born?
Although the artist references “New Man¬_ger”, we no longer have stables, warmed by the presence of oxen, and sheep, by a donkey, or perhaps a horse, as commonplace fixtures in our society. Would it, perhaps, be an outbuilding? A shed? Or, even, a parking garage?
How will he defend her from the animals and intruders of the day? The racoon, the rat, the cockroaches? Or, from those who wish to take what they have, and cause injury to those currently holding onto whatever it is that is desired?
Where will they lay the child? In a wire shopping basket? After all their worldly possessions reside in that backpack behind Joseph’s knees, and in the satchel strung over Mary’s shoulder.
At the same time, the artist continues to refer to God’s miraculous action in the world around us, in the ad’s posted to the window behind them. To the Wise Men, to the miraculous star in the East, to the holy status of both Mary and Joseph and the advent of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world all around us.
And this is just one way we are able to envision Mary and Joseph, in our modern context. Two youth, trying to do their best in a world that can be unforgiving to those who are short on physical assets. Yet we can guess their circumstances.
At the same time, they bear the hope of the world in their care, the birth of the Christ child who will come into the world, who has come into the world, and blesses us, by his presence, by his teachings, by the love the comes from God for all of humanity.
So, for the sake of our example, this evening, we can say that they don’t find a campground, or a motel willing to trade work for a room. Instead, they’re directed to a storage shed, behind the motel by a sympathetic manager. It’s somewhat clean, it doesn’t leak, and there is a tarp or two with which they can make a shelter, a nest for themselves from the cold of the night, from the cold of the season.
And in this shed, in the darkness of the night, in the time chosen by God, the baby is born, the Messiah enters the world, and the angels appear, but to whom?
We no longer have hillsides where we can find shepherds and sheep. Will it be the homeless, those who are down and out? Will it be those who are willing to share what they have with those whom they trust, knowing that each watch out for the other? Will it be to any late-night revelers, who will traipse to the shed, illuminated by the light of the star, in high heels and suits, somewhat overcome by celebrations as well as inspired by the appearance of the angels?
Who will bear the message of the angels to the world around us? Who will share it with Mary and Joseph, that tonight, in the city of David, the Messiah is born?
No matter how we choose to envision the birth of the Christ child, the situation of Mary and Joseph, the reason for their travel, while Mary is in the late stages of pregnancy, it is in a spirit of joy, of thanks that we are able to gather, tonight.
It is in the spirit of new hope, symbolized by the small plant growing from the crack in the sidewalk, that we gather in the darkness, and look to the light.
I recently read a sermon by a Presbyterian pastor, written in 2014. He emphasized the audacity of the story that we’ve been given to believe.
Rev. Peery says: “Many, many years ago–when the church of Jesus Christ was a new and fledgling movement– before people of faith gathered in magnificent sanctuaries and in crowds, before even Christianity became the great religion that it is today…with different denominations and creeds and confessions and systems of doctrine, before the church felt the need to prove itself to the outside world, before that, when the church gathered together, the focus was on telling the story of their salvation.
To quote the great theologian H. Richard Niebuhr:
“The preaching of the early Christian Church was not an argument for the existence of God nor an admonition to follow the dictates of some common human conscience… [rather] it was primarily a simple recital of the great events connected with the historical appearance of Jesus Christ and a confession of what had happened to the community of disciples.”
It is easy to forget–all these years later, and with all of our accumulated tradition–that this faith we believe and practice is inherently historical. That our faith is not some pie-in-the-sky exercise in higher level thinking, but that it is based on something that actually happened.
Again, as my friend says, it is easy to forget “that the content of our religion is less a system of dogma than a relationship with a living God, who [on this night] has entered human history in the person of Jesus the Christ.”“ (The Reality of Christmas by the Rev. Pendelton Peery)
In all of this, we have to remember that we are here, we gather, yes, because it’s our tradition to be here, go gather on Christmas Eve with friends and family, to sing carols, and to light candles, but more importantly, we’re here because we believe.
So, no matter where it is we envision the Messiah coming into the world, the Christ comes, has come, and will come again to bring the light of God’s love to our hearts, to our lives, to our actions.
And when we gather, and we believe, then the light of the world that is the Christ, that is the baby in the manger, that is the Messiah on the Cross, shines amongst us. And like the light of the star, on that first Christmas morning, brings us to that light that life that God has promised us from the beginning, and continues to bring when two or more gather in Christ’s name.