A reflection on the readings for Christmas wherein the story of the birth of Christ is told. The following prayer will open the candle-lit worship service at 11pm Christmas Eve:
When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
You crept in beside us.
And no one knew.
Only the few
who dared to believe
that God might do something different.
Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?
Will you come into the darkness of tonight/today’s world;
not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,
in which people have stopped believing
that war will end
or that food will come
or that a government will change
or that the Church cares?
Will you come into that darkness
and do something different
to save your people from death and despair?
Will you come into the quietness of this city/town,
not the friendly quietness
as when lovers hold hands,
but the fearful silence when
the phone has not rung,
the letter has not come,
the friendly voice no longer speaks,
the doctor’s face says it all?
Will you come into that darkness,
and do something different,
not to distract, but to embrace your people?
And will you come into the dark corners
and the quiet places of our lives?
We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden
or want to be,
but because the fullness of our lives long for
depends on us being as open and vulnerable to you
as you were to us
when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.
Will you come into our lives,
if we open them to you
and do something different?
When the world was dark
and the city was quiet
You crept in beside us.
Do the same this Christmas, Lord.
Do the same this Christmas.
Once there was a man who lived next door to a church. Despite this fact he spent every Sunday sleeping through the worship service. One morning he awoke early, just in time to hear, through the open window, some verses of scripture being read. In the passage God instructs the children of Israel to place twelve loaves of bread on the holy table.
The man, in his half-awake bewildered state, believed that God had spoken to him directly, instructing him to place twelve loaves of bread on the altar in the church. The man felt somewhat honored at the thought that God needed him. But, given that he was wealthy enough to do anything, he also felt somewhat foolish that all God wanted was bread. Giving bread did not seem very important. Nonetheless the man got up and made twelve loaves of bread.
Later, the man entered the church with his bundle of bread and wondered how he could possibly leave it without being seen. Finally the room was empty and he was able to place the bread on the table, as he did so he said, “Thank you, God for guiding me in your desire. Pleasing you, God, fills me with delight.” And then the wealthy man left.
No sooner had the wealthy man gone than the poorest man in town came into the church and knelt in a pew to pray. All alone he poured out his heart and told God how he had nothing, not even enough food to feed his family for the week. Then the man saw the twelve loaves of bread on the altar and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! Blessed are you, O God, who answers prayers.” He collected the bread and ran home to share it with his family and neighbors.
Minutes later the wealthy man returned, curious to know what God had done with the bread. Slowly he climbed the stairs to the holy table where he saw that the bread was gone. “Oh my God,” he whispered, “You really needed the loaves! I thought you were just kidding. This is wonderful. You can bet that next week I will bring twelve more loaves!”
The following week the rich man returned with twelve loaves of bread. He placed them on the holy table and left. Shortly there-after the poor man returned and once more began his litany of woes. Then, again, he saw the bread on the holy table and felt that his prayers had been answered.
And so began a weekly ritual that lasted twenty years. The rich man baked twelve loaves of bread and placed them, once a week, on the holy table. And once a week the poor man came, said a prayer, and found the bread. It became such a routine that neither man gave it much thought.
Then one day the priest, detained in the sanctuary longer than usual, witnessed this amazing and odd ritual. First she saw the richest man in town place on the holy table twelve loaves of bread. Then she saw the poorest man in town come and take those loaves of bread.
The priest summoned both men to come and meet her. Then the priest questioned the men about their actions. At first the men were ashamed, one thinking he had given bread to God and the other thinking the bread was from God. They vowed to never to do this again. But the priest said, “Each of you look at your hands. Yours,” she said to the rich man, “Are the hands of God giving food to the poor. And yours,” she said to the poor man, “are the hands of God receiving gifts from the rich. In this way, God is present in your lives. Go and continue baking and receiving. Your hands are the hands of God and your lives are intertwined .”
Our scripture stories remind us, over and over, that God acts in and through the lives of human beings. God acted through Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and from these ancient people God builds a nation of people who listen and follow God’s desire. Later, as we hear in Luke, God acted through Mary and Joseph. God calls them to bear forth into this world, the very life of God. The mystery of this night/day, of Christmas, of the birth of God into human flesh, of the Incarnation, is manifested in the reality of God choosing to act in and through human life.
For Christians it is the Incarnation that is primary, from which everything else is possible. It is the birth of God in human flesh that assures us of God’s presence with us. God chose to manifest God’s love in human flesh. God chose to work in and through human lives. It is the birth that shows us, as Christians, how to live as faithful people. It is the birth that eventually directs us to the brokenness in human life, to recognize all the ways we reject God’s love. It is the birth that leads to the life, and a sad and tragic death that leads to the new life again – all with the assurance that God’s love is given over and over, given to us exactly as we are, in all our brokenness.
In this Christmas season, with many of us still raw from the tragedies of this year, of lives taken too soon, too young, let us embrace anew the birth of God’s love in the Christ child. For life is full of tragedy, even the life of Jesus, God’s child contained pain and suffering.
The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ assure us that God is always present. God is present at our birth. God is present in our lives. God is present and caring in our suffering. God is with the dying. And God is working through the pain and brokenness of this world to bring forth new life.
When the world is dark, Christ creeps in beside us, to love us. Born in and through the darkness, God’s love comes into the world to tend to our brokenness. Birthed from the darkness of Mary’s womb like the darkness of our lives, the light of Christ is born. In darkness life begins and brings forth hope, love, peace, and joy.
As Christians we are called, through baptism, to be the Body of Christ, which means we are called to bring forth God’s love in and through our lives – as a church, as a community, and as individuals.
The living bread of Holy Eucharist is one of the primary ways we know the presence of the living God.
Give us this day our daily bread.
I am the bread of life, which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
The bread that Christ gives us is the food of love, nourishing our hearts and souls. Fed by the love of God in Christ we are called to heal the sick, called to care for the poor, called to reconcile the broken-hearted.
Come, let us share in the one bread, that we may be a source of hope for others.
Let us become the food of love that will heal this broken world.
Let us be Christ’s hands and heart in the world, may all our actions and words bring forth peace.
God was born into the world a small vulnerable baby, trusting human hands to hold their maker. May we hold that trust tenderly and through it bring forth peace, hope, and love. May the joy of our lives bring joy to the world.