... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Christmas Eve Year A
Message December 24, 2013

Experience God’s Gift!

Text: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

During the four Sundays of Advent we have looked at the themes of hope peace joy and love from a perspective of God’s actions in the lives of a chosen people. We witnessed how contemporary oracles foreshadowed greater events and how the tides of human history seemed to flow by divine direction in spite of seemingly human consequences. The culmination of these precursors we experience tonight as we once again hear the Christmas story. For most of us the story has been with us all our lives and perhaps many know it by heart. But do we really experience it? Maybe what we once experienced we have put aside or buried deep within our past as merely childish dreams. Yet it is there it lingers just below the surface especially for us in Bala-Mactier. I just have to mention the Trek to Bethlehem and the numbers who either perform or come out to do the walk. There is something there which calls us to experience.

I remember with great emotion going outside Christmas Eve after dark, plopping down in the snow and making angels. Lying there looking up at the stars and thinking how wonderful it would be to hear the angels sing. Then getting up from the snow angel and pretending to be a shepherd. For those brief few moments time ceased, space contracted and I was in Bethlehem! Amid all the cares concerns and confusion of soon to write winter exams (yes, ours were in January), in the maelstrom of excitement around Christmas presents birthdays and special dinners, here was a sojourn into the divine story of human salvation.

Too often we forget that God acts not in the loud thunderclaps of history but in the everyday din of natural affairs. God’s coming into the world in Christ Jesus happened in the everyday hum-drum of political social and economic events of the day. The Roman Empire, including Israel was being governed so as to ensure that the pax Romana (Roman peace) was maintained understood and encouraged. The Jewish religious hierarchy was trying to uphold encourage and influence the spiritual and religious lives of its people. The businesses were to be overseen, the flocks were to be tended, and the lands were to be farmed. All this continued as normal. The only abnormal things, if you will, was a census which required all to be counted in the town of their ancestry or birth. But here again, such census taking was not unheard of and for many in the Roman Empire this was just another part of the political requirements and forces which governed their everyday lives.

These same forces govern our lives today – the political social and economic powers which dictate what we are to do, how we are to behave, what requirements must be met, and when things are due. Even present buying, tree decorating and food preparations are part of those forces. Into the middle of these concerns God comes and in the whisper of a babe in a manger calls us to stop and ponder the greater Divine calling.

The Old Testament readings point out this very important reality. Isaiah 9, while a song of celebration at the birth or coronation of a new king looks beyond the commonality of human politics and social situations. It blossoms with hope and desire for prosperity and peace, justice and righteousness. However, those hops and desires are not the human concepts. If we were to read the Hebrew closely, Isaiah talks of God’s prosperity, God’s peace, God’s justice and God’s righteousness. What was a poem of celebration for a monarch is in essence a worship of God’s presence with us and a rule on earth as it is has been and always will be in heaven. It is the new song spoken of by the psalmist and the grace and manifestation written about in Titus.

And Luke wants us to know that this newness is an experience of counter-culture. He is very deliberate in his recounting the birth narrative of Jesus, and indeed throughout his ministry. While historical accuracy of the birth of Jesus, its timing and place have been questioned, the historicity is what seems to be of more import. Jesus’ birth occurs in the midst of the political social and economic climate of Israel under Roman occupation. Luke goes to great length to compare the Roman ideologies and philosophies of peace, prosperity and rule to God’s. Comparisons abound between what Rome considered peace and what Jesus means by peace, between Augustus’ rule as saviour and who Jesus is as saviour between the social and economic “haves” and the “have-nots”. These comparisons are not confrontations between Augustus and Jesus nor even Rome and Israel but rather “contrasts between vain expectations and true hope, between the disappointments that follow misplaced anticipations and the energy born of a divine promise, between the imposing but short-lived power of Caesar’s rule and the humble manifestation of the eternal dominion of God, between the peace of Rome and the peace of Christ.”

Furthermore these distinctions are not for and of the high and mighty, they are not just for the ruling class the religious elite, the political astute or the economically powerful. These are for all people and only by the inclusion of the lowest common denominator – shepherds, manger and stable could God come and be for all people. Luke’s Gospel has a particular emphasis on the inclusion of all people especially the poor and otherwise disenfranchised. Perhaps it was a social concern for the author or perhaps it was a divine understanding of the inequalities humans have made amongst themselves and a directive hand to have us see that we are all equal and that part of true stewardship demands we look after one another. Even the angelic announcement, “Glory to God in the highest heavens and on earth peace among those whom he favours” has this implication. The key to this understanding is the Greek word used here, ‘eudokia’ meaning good pleasure and the verb ‘eudokeo’ denoting “divine will to save” point to the universality of God’s gift of human salvation over against a class distinction. In other words the angels declare that the peace experienced in heaven is God’s gift being given to humanity because God so desires it.

We are the recipients of God’s pleasure and we now have the choice to experience it or to relegate it to the past. We can put Christmas alongside all the other chores, forces and, duties we routinely face, we can relegate it to the social and politically incorrect choosing to celebrate the holidays with lip service to our religious heritage or we can embrace Christmas for all it means, experience the birth of the Christ child, go out into the snow and make angels and allow ourselves to be transported back to that first Christmas to be present as God bestows His gift, His pleasure and His essence to and for all of us. I, for one, choose the latter and I think I’ll go out and make angels in the snow! What will you do?