Lighting the way to the unexpected ChristBottom Highlights, Online Only, Where's the Faith? Thursday, December 29th, 2016
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace! Happy Hanukah! Merry Christmas!
The Advent Theme of “Lighting the Way” helps us focus on how, God is lighting the way for us. Lighting the way to unfamiliar peace, unclear hope, unrevealed joy, and unknown love that leads us to the unexpected Christ.
Many of us could probably tell the Christmas Story. We know it well. We heard it in the Scripture. We sing it in our Christmas hymns.
A young virgin named Mary conceives a child by the Holy Spirit. She and her fiancé, Joseph, travel to Bethlehem by order of Emperor Augustus. There Mary gives birth in a manger because there is no room in the inn. Heavenly lights shine brightly, angels announce the good news. Shepherds leave the fields and their flocks to come see the newborn baby. Everyone is praising God!
For many of us, that is the extent of the Christmas story. It ends with the birth of the baby. However, that is only part of the story. As Paul Harvey would say, “And now, for the rest of the story!”
There is another part of the story that we don’t often hear or talk about. It’s the part of the story when the angels stop singing and go back into heaven and the shepherds return to the fields. At some point Mary and Joseph will pack up their belongings, take Jesus, and travel home to Nazareth. This is part of the story that is often left untold.
It is this part when everything looks like it did before the birth; when the manger is empty again, the night sky is dark and silent again, and the shepherds are again living in the fields keeping watch over their flocks. This doesn’t, however, signal the end of Christmas. It is really just the beginning. Christmas begins when we quit talking about the story and allow our lives to become the story.
In a few days or maybe a week or so from now, our family and friends will have returned to their homes. The leftovers will be eaten or thrown out. Decorations will be taken down. Bills will be coming in. The kids will be back in school and parents will be back at work. Like the shepherds, we, too, will return to the fields and flocks of our lives; to the routine of daily life. Everything will look like it did before the birth of Jesus.
But looks can be deceiving. I like how Rev. M.K. Marsh put it, “Who would have ever guessed that God would become human with flesh, blood, skin and hair, a body just like ours? Who could have imagined that a young virgin would give God human form? Who would have thought that our Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, the one for whom we have waited, would come among us as a baby?”
Tonight, let’s hear and trust “the rest of the story.” It tells us that the miracle of Christmas is not in the virgin birth, the heavenly light, the angels’ appearances, or the songs of the heavenly host. The miracle of Christmas is in you. The invisible God, the Creator of the universe, is now seen in a human face. The eternal Word is now spoken by a human tongue. Sacred touch is now given by human hands.
Let me go one step further. Yours is the face. Yours is the tongue. Yours are the hands. The ultimate exchange of gifts has been completed in the birth of Jesus. As theologian Marsh put it, “God has given us divinity and we have given God humanity.” Emmanuel – God with us.
All of this happens, as we read in the Gospel of Luke, in the most ordinary of places and circumstances. It happens even as a government orders a census and taxation. It happens in the midst of travels, crowds and over-booked hotels. It happens in the darkness and fear of an unknown future. It happens with the birth of a baby. It happens while working the night shift.
Jesus’ birth didn’t permanently take the shepherds out of the fields and away from the sheep. Before Jesus was born, they were shepherds living in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. After Jesus was born, they were shepherds living in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Jesus’ birth does not allow us to escape the reality of our life and world. It’s just the opposite. Jesus is born into the circumstances of our life and world. There is no place you go, or circumstance you encounter, where Jesus is not being born.
Look at your life. What do you see? Name the reality, whatever it might be, because that is a place where Jesus is being born, a place where God’s divinity meets your humanity.
Jesus is born in the joys, celebrations and thanksgivings of your life. He is born in the sorrow, losses and griefs of your life. He is born in times of hopes and fears, in your words and in your silence. He is born in your successes and accomplishments as well as your failures and disappointments. The salvation of God’s presence, love, joy, hope, peace and healing, fills every aspect of your life.
So let the angels depart and the shepherds return to the fields. Let the sky become silent. Let the Holy Family go home. And let Christmas become real. The manger of his birth is not in Bethlehem. Your life is the manger of Jesus’ birth, the unexpected Christ. And that, as the angel says, is “good news of great joy!”
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