Christmas Eve 2020

While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.

Christmas Eve Meditation

It has been many years since our own children were born but there are some things you don’t forget: like how scary it all is, especially for a first child. You imagine how many things can go wrong and part of you is sure that the worst will happen, while you desperately hope for the best.

I was in the room when our eldest child was born and one of the nurses had to make me sit down and gave me a glass of orange juice to stop me from fainting.

So what was it like for Mary and Joseph, already stressed from the long journey? They can’t even get a hotel room; there are no fancy birthing suites in hospitals; they’d need to rely on a local midwife, someone they don’t know at all.

And then, just when you think it’s an irredeemable disaster, the baby’s born, you’ve counted all his fingers and toes and concluded that he’s the most beautiful child you’ve ever seen (of course he’s perfect, he’s your baby) and you are settling in to make the best of this . . . stable.

Just then, in come these smelly shepherds (they must be smelly, it’s the night shift, they’ve been out in the fields, basically camping) and they’ve got this wild story of angels proclaming and singing.

What would Mary say today? “What are you guys doing in here? Where are your masks? How can we keep a social distance in this blasted stable? What do you mean, angels sent you?”

That last bit might not have mattered so much since both Mary and Joseph had experienced angelic visitations some months before. They wouldn’t have considered the shepherds crazy, but they must have been intrusive.

Our dreamy Christmas imaginations rarely take into account how very human, how very challenging, this must have been. Mary and Joseph deserve medals for getting through all that stress.

It would have been hard. Normally, Mary should have been able to have her mother around when her baby was born to help her with all the stuff that needs doing, maybe even just to give her a chance to sleep, a break to recover from the birth.

And yet there she was, far from home, from her family at this most important time and while the shepherds undoubtedly meant well, would she really want them close to her baby? He could catch something from all these strangers!

The miracle here is that somehow it all worked, despite how scary it must have been, despite how alone Mary must have felt. Sure, Joseph’s a great guy but they haven’t even been married a year yet

and he’s no replacement for the women of her own family at a time like this!

Despite the dislocation and the isolation, Mary was able to take into her heart all that the shepherds told her. She was able to start making sense of the deeper meaning of what was going on. She was no doubt wondering what the future would hold and she was starting to get the clues suggesting that everything would be different from now on.

The year 2020 has brought us a COVID Christmas and many people can relate to Mary as we are kept separate from those we love at a time that our whole world tells us we should be together, that we need to be together.

Can we follow Mary’s example as we struggle with the stresses of this time?

Can we adapt to doing things in new and unfamiliar ways?

Can we learn? Can we look for clues to a deeper meaning? Can we, perhaps, start to develop a vision for the future that will grow out of this challenging time?

That’s the example Mary set for us as she welcomed her first child, Jesus, with the conviction that God could make things work even as the world went crazy around her.

We can have that conviction too. God can do better than making lemons out of lemonade. God can re-invent our whole way of doing things, even when we are in the middle of a crisis.

That’s what God did that first Christmas with the gift of Jesus, in the middle of a time of upheaval.

God can do that now, too if we permit it: if we, like Mary, open our eyes and hearts to discover the hand of God at work in new and unexpected ways. It won’t be smelly shepherds and singing angels again: that ‘s been done. It will be something new, something unexpected.

So let’s keep our eyes and hearts open this Christmas. Don’t let the challenges close us down. God is at work, preparing to do something new. Let’s be open, like Mary, so we can be part of it.


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