December 24, 2016
Luke 2:1-20, Isaiah 9:2-7
“Ready or Not”
How many of you have a favorite Christmas movie that you watch year after year? If so, do you see something new each time or do you just enjoy watching the same scenes each time? I’m thinking about the scripture we just heard from Luke as that movie we watch every year. In this case, the picture is broken so we are hearing the familiar words and using our imaginations to provide the images. What stands out to you? Is it Mary wrapping Jesus in swaddling clothes? Is it shepherds being awestruck by the angel’s announcement? Is it a chorus of angels bursting into song? Is it the shepherds making their way to this baby and telling everyone Jesus was a gift from God? There are many dramatic moments in this story and many places to stop and drink in the mystery. I memorized this scripture years ago and so the words come easily to me…they are familiar and yet this year, I heard some of the words in a powerful way.
Every year, we need this story. Every year, there are circumstances that remind us that this child is needed in our world more than ever before. This year is no exception. The news from Aleppo is devastating. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and more than half the country’s prewar population has been displaced. We cannot wait for help. Help is needed now.
Hear the words from scripture: “To you is born this day.”
This day?? This day?? Not tomorrow or later?
I’ll be honest and tell you that even though the world needs Jesus now, I was kind of hoping for a few more days to be ready for this. I didn’t really want Jesus to come until I was ready for him. But what does being ready for him mean? Seriously, would I ever be ready for him? Would any of us?
We have the whole season of Advent to prepare. This year we have been using Advent cards each day to reflect and make room for Christ. I think I have this strange idea that if I just do one more thing, I will magically feel ready for Jesus. The time for getting ready has passed. Now our task is to embrace the gift that has arrived and be part of this amazing thing God is doing.
One of the most inspiring pieces I have read recently is by Clarissa Pinkola Estes called “We Were Made for These Times”. She opens with the words “My friends do not lose heart. We were made for these times.” She compares us to sea worthy vessels and she says we have what we need. We hoist our sails and God will provide the wind needed to move us into the open water where the needs are great. To use her imagery, I would like to spend more time preparing my ship.
I know that if I could just have some more time to batten the hatches, learn how to use that GPS or spend more time learning to read the stars, I would be happy to launch next week or maybe the next. Soon, of course, just not this day.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes says “for years we have been learning, practicing, and training” for this moment. She ends with these words “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”
There is nothing safe about the story of Jesus’ birth. He is born in an exposed barn not a lovely hospital birthing room. Immediately, Herod wants to kill him so he goes into hiding with his parents. That is the story of the incarnation. God comes, not into the safety of our church sanctuaries, but into the exposed places in our city, in our world. We gather here this night to sing carols of peace and joy, but then we go out to meet God in the messiness of world.
Several years ago, Harriett Richie told a story in the Christian Century of going to a run down truck stop after the late Christmas Eve service with her family. She was put off by the tacky lights and bad country music and feeling rather superior to the motley crew gathered inside when a young couple entered with a baby. The baby began to cry. The couple tried to comfort her. When the baby wouldn’t stop crying, the tired waitress carried her around and the truck drivers made silly faces at her until she stopped. While the waitress took care of the baby, a man with one arm who was sitting at the bar, picked up the coffee pot and went around the restaurant to refill empty cups. As she watched this, Harriett said to her husband, “He’d come here, wouldn’t he?” She had been feeling sorry for the people in this sad truck stop and now she saw them as the ones who would be chosen to welcome the infant Jesus. She realized that this is the kind of place Jesus would be born today. (Christian Century, December 13, 1995)
In some ways, that is the scandal of this story. Jesus comes into the messiest of places and brings forth the best in us. He isn’t waiting for us to be ready. He simply shows up and soon we are doing what needs to be done – comforting one another, pouring the coffee, and responding to the needs in front of us. The world needs us… now, not tomorrow or the next day. Jesus has come to accompany us as we move from the safety of the sanctuary out onto the open waters. Jesus comes in vulnerability and reminds us that we can do the same. In fact, we are ready. We don’t need to check the weather forecast or tide current charts one more time.
We were made for this moment. We have prepared for it for years. The time is here. Step out into the night buoyed by the carols and candlelight. Christ is born this day.
Thanks be to God!