Saturday, December 24th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:1-20
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”-Luke 2:10
In his recent book, The Triumph of Christianity, sociologist Rodney Stark notes that those who deride the Christian faith claim that Christianity is but “a sedative for suffering in this life by promising that we will be fully compensated in the next.” He continues, “Atheists like to ridicule this aspect of faith as ‘pie in the sky.’” While it is certainly true that the Christian faith is concerned about what happens to us after we die, it is equally true, that our faith is not about enduring present suffering for the sake of eternal bliss. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Indeed, Stark responds by noting, “What is almost always missed (in these derisive characterizations of Christianity) is that Christianity often puts the pie on the table! It makes life better here and now. “
It seems to me that the Christmas story is entirely about how our faith not only gives us a hope for the future, but transforms our lives in the present age. The Christmas story is about hope. Hope in the age to come, and hope in the present moment. The truth is that in Christ Jesus, God changes lives.
We live in a world that is desperately searching for meaning. The promises offered by the world are failing all around us. Political systems that once seemed so established are being reshaped and reformed in unrecognizable ways. An economy that was once considered unassailable has repeatedly suffered blows that have unmasked its structural and systemic instability. Even our beloved public institutions and social safety nets that were considered the envy of the world are threatened under the weight of the instability of the present economic system. We long for a word of hope to be spoken into the present moment, not simply a word about some distant future hope, but a word of hope for “now.”
“Lo, there were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Although we live in a very different world from these shepherds, do not think for a moment that they needed a word of hope for their present reality any less than we need one today. They lived in occupied territory. They knew great hardship and suffering. All of the things that threaten to defeat and destroy every generation were part of their story as much as they are part of ours. What were their needs? How did they suffer? What meaning did they seek for their lives? The human condition changes not from age to age.
“But suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them and they were afraid.” Sometimes fear grips us when the possibility of change is before us, for even though we have longed for change, prayed for healing, we can fear it. We have become so accustomed to the pain we experience, we have become accustomed to the brokenness of our lives and of our world, the brokenness of the systems of power that rule this world, that a challenge to that pain and brokenness might seem frightening at first. What we experience may be difficult for us, but it is what we know. Better the devil we know, so the saying goes.
But into this fear of taking the plunge into the unknown ocean of hope, into this fear of taking a risk for healing, reconciliation and new life, the angel announces “Fear not!” Fear not. How easily it is said, but how much more difficult it is to follow, to believe. Yet, the announcement to be not afraid carries with it a promise, and it is a promise that undergirds the proclamation and washes our fear away. “Fear not, for I bring you glad tidings of great joy! I bring you good news!” Into the midst of all the bad news of our lives and the brokenness of this world, good news is spoken, glad tidings are proclaimed. And what is this good news? Today, in the city of David, a saviour is born.
Today a saviour is born; not tomorrow, not next week, not in some far off, distant utopian future. Today, this very night, Jesus is born. This is the power of the Gospel. This is the truth of its message: God with us, Emmanuel. God changes us now. The moment is not long in coming. The moment is now. The Shepherds were not told to wait, nor did they go to sleep and wait until the morning. No! They made haste in the late evening hours: “Let us go and see this thing that the Lord has done!”
The message is no different this very night. Amidst the brokenness of this age and of our lives, the angel voices proclaim, “Fear not! For unto you is born this day, a saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” And as it was for the Shepherds, so it is for us, Jesus has come, our God Incarnate, God in the flesh, God made human, Emmanuel. We need not wait, we need not hope for a better day, for hope meets us tonight! Shall we then make haste to greet him as he comes to us?
And what of the suffering of this present age? What of the corrupt systems? What of our broken world? I say, that when God changes you and when God changes me, God changes the world. With every heart that receives him a new piece of divine reconciliation occurs. With every heart that receives him, a new and generous heart is created that says “no” to all the forces and powers that seek to destroy this world and the people in it. With every heart that receives him, human dignity is restored.
God changes us. Jesus changes us. It is not all about what happens when this life is finished, although God cares about that, too. It is about God changing this world, transforming this world, one life, one person at a time. When God changes me, when God changes you, together we become a people whose lives are modeled on compassion, generosity, love and hopefulness. When Jesus is birthed in us, these things are birthed in the world, and the world is changed. When I know joy, the world knows joy. When I know love, the world knows love. When I know hope, the world knows hope. When I am changed, when I am transformed, the world is changed, the world is transformed.
And so, this very night, angel voices proclaim that Good News again. Let us heed their call, and like the shepherds of old, make haste to greet him. But more than that, like them, let us bear witness to this thing the Lord has done. Let us bear witness in our changed lives as the shepherds did in theirs. May you know his life-transforming love this Christmastide and always, that each of you might carry the Christ Child to those who in turn need to hear the life-changing message, “Fear not, for unto you is born a saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves