A Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Thousands of years ago, people longed for something to change. They spoke of it in their poems and songs, they gathered around fires and told stories. One day, things would be different.
We are not so different. We all want things to be better next year than they were this one, we all want to believe in the idea that there is something more.
And so we gather with our families, on one of the darkest nights of the year, to believe in miracles...
I saw an ad on Kijijji yesterday, it is an online place where you can sell stuff, and the ad was offering Christmas spirit. It said, if you have no one to spend Christmas with, come to our house, if you have nothing for supper, we have a ham we can give you, if you have no gifts, we have gift certificates for the stores... then I read how the power is out in half of Moncton today, so the Crown Plaza, one of the nicer hotels in town, is offering rooms to anyone without power for 30 bucks.
Life will not get you down, Isaiah said, There is such goodness in the world that we will see light shining in the darkness... and tonight, we see that light. Here. Now. In the faces of those who have gathered.
A Reading: Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
It all starts with this... with the baby in the manger... and we can see it in so many different ways; God bending near the earth and coming to live among us... God’s love showing up in unexpected ways in unexpected places... a moment when someone was born that would change everything...
But it is Christmas. And it is worth noting that it happened in an out of the way place and the first people to recognize why this was important were not kings or queens or professors or priests, it was ordinary people, like you and me, like the shepherds, who were able to see in what was happening, something amazing.
A Reading: Luke 2:8-14
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
I love the idea of Angels bending near the earth. I love the idea of thin places, of those times when heaven and earth seem very close together. I mean that poetically – like when you see a sunrise, or walk on new fallen snow in the starlight… When you hold a baby or see someone sound asleep with a smile on their face. I love the times when we see God.
I have a romantic notion that the shepherds just could not live without seeing this baby for another second. That it was as if they knew that something magical, something divine was happening and they just had to be a part of it. So much so that they just left… they ran down the hillside to get there in time… they did whatever it would take to be with God.
I have always felt that Christmas was a magical time of year, and I guess what I have always been trying to say is that I feel the magic of God’s presence in these moments. I am not sure how, concretely, that happens… I am not sure what, exactly, I am feeling at times such as these… but it is as if I know that everything will be all right, that I am loved, that goodness really will save the day.
You see, I have seen the stranger push the car out of the snowbank; I have watched someone give 100 dollars to a homeless man on Christmas Eve; I have read stories in which Christmas has the power to change lives and I have seen evidence.
And I think it really is that simple. We all want to believe. We all want to know that we are loved. We all want to have hope. We all want to sing with joy… but we need a reminder every now and again that these feelings are ok. We need to be shown that there is goodness and hope and mercy and love and that in the end, these things do make a difference.
Perhaps it is too simplistic, but I see that in a Christmas Eve service. I see friendly faces, I see candles burning nostalgically, I see lights aglow and new fallen snow… and well… I see God.
Christmas Eve makes me want to run down that hillside too. It makes me want to go and see what God has done, and then take that out into the world... I want to be a shepherd.
We are like the Shepherds. We are the ordinary people living our lives on the hillside... but every now and again, the miraculous, the holy, the magical breaks through....
We catch a glimpse of God and we see love breaking through... Hopefully tonight in this service, or at home in the morning with the gifts under the tree, something stirs your soul, and you can go from here and take God’s news. Be the messengers and share the love...
And so I send you forth with hope, with peace, with joy, and with love.
Know that the light of Christ goes with you.
May this lovely season of Christmas bring you blessings in abundance.
May the love of God work its magic in your life.
May your heart be filled with hope and joy.
May you touch every life you meet.
Merry Christmas and peace for you this New Year.