All around the world tonight, christians are gathering to welcome the Christ Child. All around the world tonight, families are finishing their wrapping, kids are anxiously trying to sleep, parents are exhausted trying to provide a christmas this year, in a year already full of enough challenges. All around the world tonight, the great silence of Christmas descends on us, a silence so profound that only the cry of a new baby could break it. A cry this year heard over zoom, social media, or the phone. Because despite our best efforts, we did not defeat the pandemic for christmas. Despite our best efforts, we did not avoid further isolation. Despite our best efforts, we are still apart, trying to figure out how to have Christmas in such an unusual year. Yet there is something magical about tonight, not in a harry potter way, but in a profoundly real way. Tonight, in the midst of our isolation, in the midst of this year that just won't end, we meet Hope. We meet hope in a way that we’ve likely never experienced before in our lives because of this pandemic, which is the kind of Hope you won't meet in a Hallmark card. Tonight, we meet an incarnate and eternal hope. Tonight we hear a message of unexpected hope from an unexpected place, a field.
The story of luke is a tale as old as time in our traditions of Christmas. We’ve all heard it, probably even remembering the times when we ourselves played sheep and angels in the countless pageants which use this text. Christmas, in a lot of ways, is not Christmas without this story. Yet it's a story that if we are being honest, we are more likely to call an artifact of faith rather than a living witness of faith. It can be argued as an artifact because of how well we know the characters, how well we know the story, and how little changes because of it every year. That's the weird thing about Christmas, every year we prepare just the same with the same hopes and dreams for something new, and yet so little changes. Our hopes for change, for progress, for justice, often go unheard. We work like crazy up until Christmas on our ministry to the homeless, the marginalized, the outcast. We work like crazy within us to live differently, to go deeper with God, to embrace the forgiveness of Gods all encompassing grace, but little changes. We still have poverty, isolation, homelessness. We still sin, we still deny God in our lives, we still live by cheap and easy grace, because we’ve been here before and we know how the story ends. So we dull the pain of a world still broken with christmas cheer and focus on our important and beautiful traditions. We sing our hymns, and we wonder at the marvel of this holy night, as a prelude to the hope of a wonderful gift laden morning tomorrow. But it is on this Holy night that we encounter the most unexpected hope ever experienced. A hope that is actually real.
Luke does a good job of describing the scene of Christmas, don't they? While some of the details are not historically accurate, like the census of Augustus was not in the same timeline as Christ’s birth, it is still an important theme for us to pay attention too. The easy read is that Christ was born in opposition to an evil ruler, but that's not what happened. Christ’s birth shares with the census a theme of care and protection for humanity, a care and protection held open for us to reflect on as we hear this jarring announcement that the Saviour is here. It's important for us to hear this narrative in the light of what is being presented to us in these colliding universes. Rome, the Rome of Augustus and control, of standing and conformity, tells us that in order to belong you must obey. You must fit in, you must follow the control of another never erring out of your social lane. Rome, in return, would sell you the hope of stability- of the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome- of prosperity, of security, of a future. However, all of these are human made promises of hope, promises that depended on the whim of the emperor. Promises that are nothing more than vainglory, glory that fades as quickly as wheat is consumed by fire- in a flash. Sic transit gloria mundi, thus passes the glory of this world, would be the announcement of Rome's Angels this night. However we hear something more glorious, more striking. We hear the angels of God announce God's peace to us, in the glory of this celestial moment. Gloria in excelsis we hear tonight! A moment that calls us to embrace the resolution of the angels to not fear, because this hope is alive.
This living hope is intrusive. Think about how the shepherds receive the message tonight. It doesn't come quietly, the very heavens above them shattered open with a burst so powerful that they were terrified. They were terrified because of the unbelievable hope they were hearing, that God came to them and all people with good news of their salvation. This message of the field was about a common humanity which is in direct opposition to Rome, in that if you were not roman or of that town you were not welcome. And here God comes to all people- all meaning all- to dwell among us as the saviour, the longed for son of God.This is a revolutionary statement! The longed for hope of the people of Israel is here. Finally, the answer to our longing for a sustainable hope has arrived. A sustainable hope found not in a grand palace on a gold throne with the whim of human ego, but in rags, in a feed trough, in the drafty confusion of a stable. God's hope, relieved through the announcement made to the shepherds, is about God's desire to go to the very edges of who and what we are to show us and lead us to the longed for hope in our midst, an intrusive hope that upends our idea of this world. God going to the very edges, from the moment of God's birth tonight, sets for us the trajectory of our ministry and purpose in this life- to follow and meet him in the margins of our society.
You see, this is why we hear the witness of the shepherds tonight as we anticipate his birth tomorrow morning. This is why we hear from Luke tonight, a gospel that puts us directly in the midst of the cosmic plan of salvation wrought out for us in Christ who comes among us at Christmas. We anticipate his birth tonight as an invitation to an unexpected and intrusive hope, an unexpected hope that asks us to follow him into the margins of our world. To see once more, in the warm light of this crazy messy manger, the truest nature of who and what we are, that we are saved in love. To see once more with the amazement of the shepherds and the joy of the angels, that you and I are so loved, that God can’t live another minute without us closer to him. Our proximity to love tonight, in the unexpected hope that Christ’s birth brings into this world, shows that it is possible to transform this world because God is here already doing it. Christmas is not about human ability, it's about God's ability to move, provide, and transform us with his presence so that we can continue the good work already started by God within us.
This is the message we hold onto tonight, that despite all of what 2020 has been and has caused, that despite the isolation, the loss, the challenges and the trial, God comes to us at Christmas with a message of living hope in the face of Jesus Christ. This is not false hope, it's real, alive, and breathing in the encounter we make with him in this Eucharist, a Eucharist that centers us directly in the arms of God's unimaginable love. It is this unimaginable and joyful message of love, that this world needs to hear tonight. So as you return to your fields, Church, the places God has given you authority in your life, how will you share what you have seen and heard tonight of this unexpected hope and love that calls us to live this revolutionary love in the margins of our world again?