Sunday, December 25, 2016

can you hear me now?

Last night, we held the traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion service, one of the best parts of the church year; one of the best parts of being a pastor.  It always follows the same liturgical format, the readings are always the same, except for the psalm, the carols are familiar and beloved, and everything moves towards the moment when we sing 'Silent Night' and pass the light of Christ to one another. 

But I have learned over the years to expect some sort of glitch (where did the Christ candle go), some oversight (what do you mean no one ordered individual candles), or the scary (a little kid's hair getting singed by leaning too close to the Advent wreath).  Last night proved to be no exception.  Just as I started to sit down following the homily, a cell phone* blared out, loud enough for everyone to hear, "If you said something, I didn't understand."  And yes, it got a good laugh, and we moved on with the service.

Yet, I wonder, isn't that our response to the Christmas story, if truth be told?

The angel announces not just good, but the best sort of news, a Savior has been born.  We don't have to depend on our ingenuity, our arrogance, our foolishness to save us from ourselves.    No, God announces, I will take the burden off your shoulders.  So there is no reason to fear - God or our future.  And we basically say, with our insistence that we are quite capable of looking after number one, "If you said anything, I didn't understand."

The angelic chorus bursts out into a great cantata celebrating this momentous moment in our history.  Wow! they sing, this is great stuff.  Peace is being poured out upon all people; you are invited to share it with everyone around you, to see your sister and brother in every person we meet.  And the world responds, as nations decide that it's time to ratchet up the nuclear arms race once again, "If you said anything, we didn't understand."

The folks we usually ignore, the people who work behind the counters at the places we eat, the folks who pull our cars out of ditches, the housekeepers who clean our rooms, the folks who mow our lawns, they all crowd around us to tell us of the One they have met.  The baby who has been born in poverty so we might inherit grace; the little one who shed glory to be swaddled in our fears and worries; the God who chose to become one of us so that we might discover how much we are loved (not hated), how much we are cared for (not forgotten), how much we are welcomed (not rejected) is in our midst.  At it is those little, least, lost, and last of our society who goes to see, and they runs to tell us.  And we yawn, with our lack of compassion for the most vulnerable among us, and say, "If you said anything, we didn't understand."

And yet, however tempting it must be, that is never God's response to us when we cry out for help, when we pray for hope, when we seek God's presence, when we ask for directions once we have left Bethlehem, when we whisper in the loneliness of life's night.

(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman

* Clergy colleagues will appreciate the fact that it was the phone of the PK that went off in the middle of the service!

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