It is safe to say this is a Christmas unlike no other I have marked. It is, I guess a fitting way to end a year that has disrupted so much of what we have taken for granted. We have struggled to hold on to much of what is comfortable but at the same time seen the need to let go and adapt some new ways of being a community.
So here we gather online, lighting candles, sharing the story of Jesus’s birth and singing and praying together, but from the comfort of our homes.
This is a year that has forced us to find new ways of worshipping and new ways of being in community. We try to hold onto old ways as much as we can. They give us comfort and a sense of stability. But we have also needed to adapt and to adopt new habits and ways of sharing and coming together. When we proclaim our desire to care for one another and to put the health of our friends and family before our own comfort, we do what is loving and compassionate. When we hear God is with us, God is alive in our midst, how do we respond?
And with that, my thoughts this year around the Christmas story are focused on two separate reactions we read about this evening.
How do the shepherds react after visiting the manger? And how does Mary respond to everything she experiences?
After receiving the news of the birth of the Messiah, the shepherds rush to Bethlehem to see this thing for themselves. They then return home praising God and celebrating.
Mary meanwhile ponders these things in her heart.
What is it they are reacting to? God has come. God has made known that God is alive, and fully human among us. God is responding to the challenges and the heartbreak of life in our world by joining us in tis world.
That action brings with it a promise. That God hears our cries and is with us offering us hope of better tomorrows. God has not forgotten us, or turned away from us, but chooses instead to fully engage with us.
And so the shepherds go forth, to share that good news. To sing God’s praises and to celebrate the implications. It is a time for song and shouting for joy.
On the other hand, Mary who was very much a part of this miracle; holds these matters in her heart and silently contemplates these things.
There is no wrong answer. The implications that God is birthed into our world are significant. That God chooses to live amongst us; to be born an infant in the humblest of circumstances, deserves some contemplation. Considering Mary’s journey it seems more than reasonable that she would want to, perhaps need to spend some time in quiet reflection. If she is indeed granted that time?
After the year we have experienced. The heartbreak; the upending of tradition and so many things we took for granted. The loss of friends and family and the challenges of marking those moments with the support of community; the message that God is with us and comes to live amongst us can prompt a deep reflection.
How do we actually witness God amongst us? Okay; messengers tell us it is so, but can we see this for ourselves?
I wonder what it means that the shepherds visit a stable and see a new family. A mother, a father and a newborn. And this is a sign for them of God being with us. They do not see signs of power and wealth. They see a new born child and find in that, hope. God is at work; God is active and change is coming. That is what they see. And so they praise God.
Mary, who earlier in Luke’s gospel, sings her praise to God; who proclaims herself blessed by God; that her soul magnifies God; now reflects on what this all means.
But even in the midst of this miraculous event some things cannot be overlooked by Mary. And, I don’t mean this flippantly. God is a child. God needs nourishing and raising. God among us needs to be nurtured. Just because God has arrived, doesn’t mean Mary’s work is done.
We can celebrate; we can and should celebrate God’s presence amongst us. But our work isn’t done. Let us share the good news of God’s work in our lives. Let us praise God for what God has done and is doing.
We witness the new life that is a sign of God, but let us nurture that life, help it to grow, offering what we can.
This is a Christmas we never saw coming. But it remains Christmas, when we celebrate God with us. Emmanuel. God hears us, God sees us and God knows us. God desires a deeper relationship with us and comes amongst us, offering us love and peace.
Thanks be to God.
Go now in the light of Christ,
the sure and certain hope of our Creator,
sustained by the Holy Spirit in mercy and love. Amen!
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