Sunday, December 13, 2015
The Greatest Present ever wasn't wrapped in paper... It was wrapped in people ( a reflection on Luke's narrative of Jesus birth)...
When you read through it... if I'm not being to flippant here... It reads like a great musical... everybody seems to break into song... or at least wax forth poetically. When Mary has the Angels message to her confirmed by Elizabeth and her baby, she gives thanks to God. And her song has the feel of years of expectant faith, waiting for God to keep his promise and send a saviour, but also of the miles and hours she has travelled to see her aunt hoping that what she has heard is true. It resounds with joy, hope and the possibility for God's peace and Love to be born into the world.
Elizabeth's husband Zechariah, who had been struck dumb for nine months as he had himself questioned an angels message to him, breaks forth into praise and prophecy... Again helping us to tie what is happening here with the longing of God's people and telling us the part that his son John the baptist will play in God's salvation story.
On the night that Jesus is born, we are given a break down of possibly the greatest and strangest production number, as the armies of heaven gather together to sing God's praise at the birth of this special child. Unlike the grand productions we may think of today... this is the biggest number of performers, seen by the smallest crowd, usually such things are reserved for the great and the rich, who have leisure time to enjoy them but here it is for the poor and insignificant while they are doing the night shift.
As Mary and Joseph bring Jesus o the temple to be dedicated we have Simeon and Anna, who declare the significance of this child to all who would hear and finish Luke's account with a tinge of reality but also praise to God for his goodness and for the fact that he has kept his promise.
While Luke does not mention it Matthew also tells us that this story of Jesus birth also finishes with the wailing and lament of mothers crying for their children. The paranoid dictator Herod had sent his death squads to kill children under two and Mary and Joseph become like the many faces we have seen this year refugees looking for safety so they can raise their families.
This year however I was also aware that Luke' story of the coming of God in flesh, the birth of Immanuel 'God with us' is not wrapped in paper but in the stories of people.
Luke tells his story with a balance between men and women. An angel appears to Zechariah and then to Mary. Mary is greeted by both Elizabeth and the son in her womb, who both recognise the presence of their lord and saviour. Mary responds in worship and song and prophesy. Zechariah responds to the birth and naming of his son with a similar song/ poem/prayer.
The significance of the child is told by the two people the family meet at the temple. Two people who have devoted their lives to prayer and waiting for God to respond. Simeon and Anna give us deep insight in to who this child is and what will happen and what it will mean for us.
It also is a story told by the young and the old. John the Baptist is the one who first recognises the presence of Jesus. As a child in the womb, he leaps with joy, an unseen dance in this musical perhaps... while Simeon and Anna are close to the end of long lives. Simeon has been told he would not die before he would see God' salvation and Anna had been a widow for close to eighty years. The exuberance of a child and the wisdom and deep reflection of age.
While you'd expect that this is such an amazing event in the world history that the great of the day would be present. You just have to look at any event today and the great are either there invited to comment or give us their reactions via twitter, but they simply play bit parts in this story... We place this event in time by reference to Cesar Augustus and Herod. But this story is full of he people that this event will impact the most... this is good news to the poor... over time it will impact on the great as this is God's kingdom entering the realm of humanity, but it starts with the poor and the least. A couple who would have been treated with pity and maybe ostracised as they have been childless. A young wmen whose story of an angel telling her she would concieve a child by the Holy Spirit did not go down in her society. As Matthew tells us it is only the compasion and righteousness of her husband Joseph inspired by a dream that means she is not shamed. Shepards are the ones who are told of this event. in the temple a women who has suffered the sorrow of being a widow for eighty years, finds her solice in the childs comming.
What does this have to tell us today?
Firstly, it tells us the wonderful scope of the good news of this child' birth. It is Good news for everybody, for men and women, young and old, poor and rich, small and great. of course add in Matthew's narrative and you find that it also goes beyond the confines of God's people Israel to be good news to all people. Wise men from the east come to acknowledge, be it without total understanding of the whole story show us that this is good news for Jew and Gentile...
Secondly it tells us that all people are needed to tell and show this story to the world arouns us who still wait to know the reality of this Good News. Men and women together to proclaim and demonstrate it. Young and old, to both tel it with exhuberance and with considered wisdom. Not just the great and the talented and those set aside for the task, but as the shepards show us even those in their everyday occupations, even if it the night shift. People full of Joy and those able to witness to God's grace and goodness even in the face of life long suffering and sorrow. With their abilities and talents, with theri integrity and faith, with huble service and devotion and prayer.
So this christmas I pray that you may get wrapped up in the greatest gift ver Given... Jesus Christ... and you may wrapp uop that good news story in your lives as a community to give this gift to the world around you.