Lectionary Reflection for Christmas Eve 2010
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15
“Let us go now to Bethlehem…” said the shepherds, filled with wonder and purpose. They had just witnessed something completely unexplainable, an angel radiating the glory of God followed by the skies filled with a massive choir of angels singing praise to God. Talk about shaking up your average night at work!
Unfortunately, this scene loses something in 21st century translation. We are people used to being “wowed” with the latest video and computer technology. We can Skype with friends all over the world and surf the web from our smart phones. We have access to virtually everything we need and almost everything we desire. We are experts at pushing aside wonder and mystery in favor of some faint illusion of human control. We are a tough sell crowd and a suspicious people.
So tell me, all you who are charged with worship leadership and teaching, how do we communicate the impact of Luke’s story to a jaded culture where special effects are no longer special, where wealth is the norm, and where choices are taken for granted? We live in a world where George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg can digitize and animate heavenly host in no time flat. The real thing? Who needs it in a world where the real and the artificial blend together like a day of plastic surgery in Beverly Hills?
The heart of the matter is we do need it. Oh, how we need it! The cravings of the human heart cannot be filled with the swipe of a credit card, a Caribbean cruise, or a McMansion. We crave something that is purely and simply real in a world where real and artifice are hard to differentiate. Now, more than ever before we need the Christmas story, and we don’t need it sugarcoated and sanitized, massaged and marketed for a target audience. Let us, like the shepherds now go to Bethlehem, for in reality Bethlehem is wherever we find ourselves.
On Christmas Eve once again have about an hour to share the story of Christmas and the incarnation of God. The pews are likely to be packed, expectations will run high, and the pressure will be on to craft a bigger and better worship experience. We want, after all, to give people something meaningful they won’t soon forget. We hope they’ll be back the following Sunday, so we figure it’s up to us to “wow” them somehow. Our motivation may be right, but it is not our job to sell Jesus or to make the incarnation of God rival a Cecil B. DeMille production. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of handling the finer points without our bumbling human interventions.
No, our job is to go to Bethlehem right here, right now, in whatever context we live and serve. To do so, however, we first must plumb the depths of our own heart and allow Luke’s story to fill us with wonder and hope and awe, just like those first century shepherds. Empire is still very much our context, and human nature has not changed. God continues to break into our world; Jesus is present in bread and wine and in the face of our neighbor. We are stewards of the greatest story ever told, of the light of Christ, and of the mystery of the incarnation. Can we not on this one night put all theological disputations, all cynicism, and all fear aside and fall to our knees in the presence of God-reality, God-wonder, and God-with-us?
Let us enter this week to live with the nativity story, to ponder it, to pray it, to be a part of it. Let us go to Bethlehem without an extra helping of nostalgia, sans the bells and whistles of a mammoth production, and minus the preconceived notions and baggage we all bring to this night. Let us simply be God’s people and experience anew the inbreaking of hope and the dawn of salvation. Then, dear friends and stewards of the story, may we be empowered on that most holy night to take the good news of Jesus Christ from the warmth and security of our sanctuaries into all the world.
May the peace of Christ and the wonder of his story fill your hearts and minds this Christmas!