Dec. 24, 2020
Luke 2: 1-20
This is the moment we have been anticipating … an ending that comes in a beginning.
For months, we’ve anticipated the end of the year and … with it … hoped-for changes in the restrictions that have shaped our lives.
Well, we know how that went.
During the season of Advent … we anticipated the light that comes into the world and pushes back at the darkness that fills it …
This has led us to here … on a night such as this.
During the past few weeks, we anticipated being outside … singing the hymns that we have sung at Christmas Eve services more time than some of us care to remember … lighting candles in red tapers and being able to touch … to experience something familiar … something comforting … something we desperately need during these uncertain and unfamiliar times.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t look like it was going to co-operate.
But when we are outside … even if it’s just walking around our neighbourhoods … the chill of the night … the stars above … can remind us of what Mary and Joseph felt and saw as they approached Bethlehem … of what they experienced walking through the town … looking for a place to stay on a night such as this.
Maybe we can think of the chill that might have come through cracks in the wall as Mary wrapped her baby in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger.
Maybe it can remind us of what the shepherds felt and saw as they tended to their sheep outside of town.
It doesn’t seem like things that would mark an extraordinary night … in fact … it all seems quite ordinary.
A mother keeping her child warm … people working out in the fields … it doesn’t sound like anything special.
And yet … on a night such as this … God interrupted.
The extraordinary entered the ordinary.
When you consider the basic details of tonight’s story from Luke’s gospel, it all sounds pretty commonplace.
An unwed teenage mother gives birth.
A group of shepherds tend to their flocks … protecting them from animals and poachers.
But in this ordinary moment, God breaks in … again.
God had already broken into Mary’s life …
God had already broken into the life of the world …
Now, God breaks into the lives of the shepherds … inviting them … welcoming them … to bear witness to the wonder of new life … the start of something different … something that would transform the world.
The angel tells the shepherds that the joyous news has come … this isn’t some far-off promise for the future … the news concerns something that has already happened … something that requires their immediate response.
After the night is over … Mary and Joseph leave town and carry the source of their joy out into the world … protecting it and nurturing it. And the shepherds … after they had seen and shared in the marvel of the child’s birth … return to their flocks … to their ordinary life … that now isn’t quite as ordinary anymore.
Now, they proclaim what they saw … they give voice to the love they had witnessed … to the joy they have found.
I bring you news of great joy … words first shared by the angel … had taken hold of their lives and was already beginning to ripple through the world.
I bring you news of great joy … perhaps that’s how the shepherds prefaced their proclamation.
I bring you news of great joy … seven words that should anchor our lives and serve as the preface to whatever we do in the world.
This has become more important during recent months because … let’s face it … joy has been a bit hard to come by lately.
It has been nine months since the pandemic first hit this faith community … it was nine months ago when we suspended in-person services and we stopped gathering as a community.
Even after we were allowed to gather as a community, things haven’t been the same … things haven’t felt the same.
At times, we’ve struggled to find the joy in gathering … in the unfamiliar territory.
Nine months ago … we entered into a time of restrictions … of exile … it was … and still is … a time of uncertainty.
For nine months … we have anticipated an end to the exile … when we can return to our former “normal” lives … to the familiar and the traditional.
But maybe then, we discover it doesn’t feel quite right either.
I think one detail that can easily be missed during the Advent Season … a time when we are called into moments of anticipation … and one that can easily be overlooked by the wonder of Luke’s story tonight … is that Mary and the shepherds didn’t anticipate anything.
God interrupted their lives first.
Neither Mary … nor the shepherds … anticipated the appearance of angels in their lives … they just showed up and shared the news that brought joy into their worlds.
Mary and the shepherds were open to receiving the news … open to proclaiming it … ready to give thanks for it and ready to live into it.
Like Mary and Joseph … when we leave here tonight … we go into exile again. While the couple headed to Egypt to escape the death of their baby … we head back into our bubbles … to avoid the risks of Covid … to keep safe and to protect those around us.
And within these bubbles, it’s easy to feel despair … isolation … and disconnection.
But like the baby in the manger, we are also wrapped in swaddling cloths … kept warm and protected by God’s love … a love that is active in our lives … and is active in the world … especially when we swaddle … when we protect and comfort others … acts that are even more important in a time when we … through necessity are kept apart.
Luke’s nativity story serves as a reminder that God often works beyond our line of sight … on a night such as this … the ordinary holds the possibility of the extraordinary and … when that possibility is realized … the old life … the old ways … the old values just fall away.
And all of this occurs in anticipated ways.
Moments when unanticipated love reaches out … when our soul proclaims that love … when that love both comforts us and calls us to share it with each beat of a heart open to the world.
These are moments … on nights such as this … when God works through us … when we live into our call to serve and proclaim this love through our connections to one another … these are moments when new life comes into the brokenness of this world.
These are the moments when God truly breaks in… interrupts … disrupts … and within these moments … joy is born … and fostered.
God’s blessings and peace be with you this night and through all of your days … Emmanuel … God is with us … has broken into our lives… the light has come and the darkness will fade.