Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
We have spent much of the last few weeks running around and getting ready. The gifts have been purchased; the meals have been readied; the notes to neighbors have been sent. We have finished our tasks, so that on this holy morning we may slow ourselves down, maybe, even come to a complete stop. Allowing ourselves the experience of a pregnant pause.
To breathe in the joy, wonder, and mystery of the day everything changed, and then to breathe out love in new and transformational ways.
Christina Rossetti captured the meaning of this moment in her Christmas hymn:
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, Love divine;
worship we our Jesus,
but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
love be yours and love be mine;
love to God and others,
love for plea and gift and sign.
It’s no mistake that we witness the story of love through rather ordinary folk: shepherds and their faithful sheep. On the night Jesus was born, shepherds were guarding their flock, when suddenly an angel, a creature of light, stood before them in the night sky. They were terrified. What was happening?
“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 Savior, 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” (Luke 2:10-12).
For a few brief moments after, the night sky lit up, and it was as if all the heavens were singing God’s praises, while the shepherds stood awestruck in the fields. When it was over, the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to go and see this child, God’s love in human form.
It’s curious to imagine what it looked like as the shepherds made their way to see Jesus. Did the shepherds leave their flock behind? While a shepherd might circle a route, leaving a flock untended for a short while, this trip to the village would have taken them away for an extended period. It would mean prey could attack the flock, risking the shepherd’s very livelihood.
Though, maybe this was a bit of foreshadowing. Maybe the shepherds had to leave their flock behind in this story, in order to remind us of the sacrifice that is expected of us if we choose to follow Jesus. Maybe the shepherds are hinting at what will happen in thirty years, as a man invites some fishermen to follow him and learn how to fish for people instead.
Or maybe, the shepherds brought their flock with them, and overwhelmed the narrow streets of the small village. If the shepherds and their flock all knelt down before Jesus, in and surrounding the manger, then maybe the story is reminding us that God did not just come for all of humanity, but rather for all of creation? Showing us that not only did the angel proclaim good news to the most ordinary of people, but the animals they tended as well.
With or without their sheep, the shepherds were not coming from the next field over. They traversed rocky terrain, from the mountainside and down into the village. The journey, whether short or long, would have tired out their flock. Yet any weary feet or hooves were forgotten by the mere presence of the child lying in the manger. As the shepherds and their flock returned back into the fields, they were “...glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…”(Luke 2:20).
The shepherds and their flocks were changed by God becoming flesh, by experiencing a radical and unconditional love and human form. And if you have come here today to meet the Christ-child, you too, will leave changed. Because the greatest gift of all is not what is under our Christmas tree, but rather the gift of our God, the God of all creation, choosing to become incarnate; choosing to become flesh; choosing to become “Emmanuel” or rather, God with us.
Emmanuel was born to show all of creation just how much God loves us, to show us that even in our darkest moments, the light of Christ is always with us. In a world overrun in a negative news cycle which grapples with hunger, poverty, and violence against one another and creation… On a continent where a caravan of refugees have been cast aside again and again… In a country whose leaders are boasting of America’s greatness and glory above loving our neighbors…. In a region where our children and grandchildren are dying, not of polio or measles, but from diseases of despair, such as opioid overdoses and suicide... In families that often get caught up in hurts and misunderstandings...In our own lives, where we sometimes forget that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather selfishness, as Presiding Bishop Curry preached at the revival.
Yet no matter how bad things may seem at any given moment, no matter how badly we may screw up our lives--love came down at Christmas. Emmanuel; God is with us. God chose to give creation the gift of unconditional love, mercy, and grace by meeting us as one of us, by taking on human form to show us what it means to truly live and love. This is the greatest, most unimaginable gift. This gift of love has turned our world upside down, and is working to make things right again.
In the quiet of this morning, as we take in the joy, wonder, and mystery of this day, I invite you to wonder…How is God working in your life? How is God inviting you into a deeper awareness of God’s presence in you and your life?How might you share this Christmas gift of love with others this year? Amen.
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