Tuesday, December 24, 2013
A Time for Pondering (Christmas Eve 2013)
Homily Christmas Eve 2013 St. Albans
A Time for Pondering
One of my favourite verses in the Christmas story that we just heard from the gospel of Luke is the one that says “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
Christmas is a time for pondering. Of course you might never realize that with all the rushing around that we do, the shopping, the meal preparation, the traveling and the rest of it, but Christmas is a time for pondering. Because at the centre of Christmas is this strange proclamation we make that the God who created the heavens and the earth became flesh and lived among us, and appeared to us not in the form of a powerful king or a mighty warrior, but as a newborn baby, born in humble circumstance, vulnerable and totally dependent as all babies are on others to nourish and look after him. It’s a surprising story that we tell, and so it’s only fitting that we do some pondering.
Mary gets that right. Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. And maybe it helped that she had just given birth to a child. I think that childbirth puts us in the mood for pondering. Mary was exhausted of course, but there was no way she was going to sleep with all the excitement and commotion swirling around her. The birth of a child has a way of opening us up, opening us up to new dimensions of life, opening us up to a heightened awareness of the world around us, opening us up to a renewed sense of what really matters. For many of us, it’s the closest we’ll ever get to a miracle. For many of us, the love we have for that newborn child is the closest we’ll ever get to pure, unconditional, sacrificial love. And so Mary treasured all that was happening around her, and pondered these things in her heart.
And surely one of the things that she must have pondered was, “Where did all these shepherds come from?”
She wouldn’t have been expecting shepherds. Shepherding was an occupation that was filled by the bottom rung of the social ladder, by people who were unable to find what was considered to be decent work. Shepherds in Mary’s society were stereotyped as liars, degenerates and thieves. Religious leaders took a dim view of them because their work prevented them from observing the religious laws and practices, and so they were regarded as sinners. Their testimony was not admissible in courts and many towns, perhaps even Bethlehem, had bylaws which barred shepherds from entering within the city limits.
So Mary would have been surprised when the shepherds showed up. And she was amazed at what they had to say, the angels, the birth announcement, the multitude of the heavenly host. And as she pondered these things, perhaps she marveled at the fact that the first people that God chose to send his messengers to were the ones that society considered to be last. The outsiders, the poor, the marginalized. And many years later, when Jesus launched his ministry to the poor and marginalized, I’m sure that Mary remembered the shepherds.
But when God sends angels to the shepherds it is even more than simply reaching out to the marginalized. The shepherds were marginalized alright, but after years of living in the fields, years of being shunned by decent and religious folks, years of disappointment, the shepherds were also people who had given up on God. Maybe even given up on life. Life can be hard, life can be unfair. Disappointments add up. At a certain point we let go of the dreams we once had, we give up hope, give up on God.
But even when we give up on God, God does not give up on us. God sends his angels to the shepherds, and they are terrified, after all, how would you react to God sending angels to you if you’d given up on God? But the angel says,
“Do not be afraid, for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. This shall be a sign for you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
And so they ran. It was all too good to be true, but they ran anyways. They went with haste and they found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger, just as the angels had told them.
That night, the shepherds were touched by the divine. They experienced God’s presence, and though they were terrified at first, when they saw the child their fear melted away, because who can be afraid of a God who chooses to enter our world with all the fragility and vulnerability of a newborn child.
And Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart.
My hope is that you too will be touched by the divine tonight. That as we listen and ponder and pray and sing and gather round the table, we will experience God’s presence in our midst, and we will know, as surely as the shepherds did, that God is with us.
But that’s just the beginning. Because there are many people in our world who, like the shepherds, have given up on God. They’ve had too much hardship, or too many losses, or endured too many insults. They’re in the fields, they’re in shelters, they’re in hospitals; they’re in our neighbourhoods, they are in our homes. And so my further hope this evening is that those of us who have experienced God’s presence here tonight, those of us who have encountered Emmanuel, God with us, we will bring glad tidings of great joy to all who need to hear. Go to them, tell the story, offer a hug or a smile or a meal, provide a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, proclaim the good news that the God who made the heavens and the earth cares so much for us that he was born as a child in Bethlehem.
Because tonight, we are God’s angels. May we who have been touched by God this evening go out and touch others with God’s grace and love, so that they too will know that God is with us.