Some Children See Him

“Some Children See Him”

peru-nativity

Luke 2:8-15 – December 24, 2016

So many houses and apartments are decorated for the season at this time of year. Colorful lights and decorations indoors and out, shining Christmas trees, special dishes and fancy tablecloths. Plus, some families have a Nativity scene in a special place, whether under the Christmas tree or placed in an extra special location. Here at St. Luke’s Church, we have the Nativity scene with some other lovely Christmas decorations, in the narthex of our church.

The Christmas narrative from the Gospel of Luke is so familiar. Mary and Joseph enrolling for a census in Joseph’s ancestral town. Since it was the time of the census, the town was crowded to bursting. Mary was greatly pregnant, and while she was in Bethlehem, labor pains started. She and Joseph found shelter in a stable, and put her newborn baby in a feeding trough, a manger.

This evening, we are going to focus on the shepherds abiding in their fields, and the angel alerting them about the birth of this super-special Baby. Starting at verse 10 of Luke 2: “10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord.’” The shepherds quickly go into town and find the Baby, and worship and adore Him.

Yes, the Nativity scene is a familiar way of retelling this story. But—how did Nativity scenes begin? It was in 1223. “According to St. Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis of Assisi got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about ‘the babe of Bethlehem.’ (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say ‘Jesus.’)” [1]

However, that first Nativity was located in Italy, during the 1200’s. The practice of Nativity scenes, pictures and photos has certainly spread from there, all over the world. Do you remember acting in Christmas Nativity scenes? You, or your children? Or grandchildren?

When my children were small, one of the first Christmas decorations I’d take out of the box would be our little Nativity scene. The little statues were all children, and it was intended specifically for the young. I would tell and re-tell the Christmas story again and again. My younger two children would love to play with the figures, spending a good long time with those inexpensive yet meaningful little figures.

My personal Nativity scene, the one my children played with, has white children, every one. I had not thought about this when I bought the set of figures, more than twenty years ago. Even though my children were part of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school system, we still had an all-white Nativity set.

Let’s hear again the words of the angel to the shepherds, that Christmas night: “the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Not just the people in Italy, where St. Francis was. Not just the people in Europe, or North America. Good news of great joy for all the people.

Think about Edith, our church’s pen pal from Kampala, Uganda. Almost everyone she sees on a regular day happens to be African, and dark-skinned. She has seen lighter-skinned people before, but most everyone she sees and interacts with is darker-skinned. What would a Nativity scene at Edith’s church in Kampala look like? (I don’t know. I can ask her!)

I love to go to a fair trade store in Evanston, a not-for-profit shop that sells goods from all over the world, called 10,000 Villages. This store has lots of different kinds of Christmas decorations, especially different kinds of Nativity scenes. Nativities from Mexico, South America, all over Africa, India, southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

I bought this Ethiopian Nativity puzzle several years ago from a fair trade shop. I love the way the figures almost come alive, with their bright colors. Is this vibrant Nativity a welcome sight for you, or is it a bit distracting? Perhaps we might be encouraged to meditate on something a little different? Perhaps we can use an alternative, ethnic kind of manger scene, or different- culture picture of the Mother and Child, this year? Certainly something to think about.

Remember the words of the angel of the Lord: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” We can praise God! God did not send good news of great joy to just a few people in the world, or even some of the world’s people. God sent good news of great joy to all the people of the world.

The angel has come to all cultures, all ethnicities, all people, everywhere.

That is not only GOOD news, that is GREAT news. Good news of great joy! We can truly praise God with the angel hosts, saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!” Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-first-nativity-scene-was-created-in-1223-161485505/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Invitation to Wonder

“Invitation to Wonder”

Virgin Mary and Child - Russian Orthodox

Luke 2:17-18 – December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas! What a wonderful expression. People greeting each other on the street, in the stores, here at church. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but still. What a joyous time of the year. Merry Christmas, many people say!

But I want you to go back, two thousand years. Go back to a time when “Merry Christmas” was not even a phrase, a wish, an idea in people’s heads. Go back to the time that Dr. Luke describes in the second chapter of his Gospel. Back to the time when Israel was an occupied country, and the Roman Empire was the strong man. Back to the time when all people in Israel needed to be enrolled. The Roman government decided to have a census, so that they would be able to tax the people of Israel more accurately.

In our Gospel reading tonight, we heard this census described. The Holy Family, Joseph and his fiancée Mary, went to Bethlehem to enroll, because Joseph was a direct descendant of King David. I suspect there were many people on the roads. Today, traveling can be stressful and nerve-wracking. However, I am certain travel in the first century was much more difficult. Poor roads, with many people walking to get from one place to another. We might imagine that Joseph and Mary had a donkey, but nowhere in the Gospel is that mentioned. Travel conditions were challenging, at best.

So, there they are, in Bethlehem. A long way from their home, in Nazareth. I suspect Joseph took care of the enrollment business first thing. But Mary felt the pains of labor begin. What a scary thing! To be far, far from home, in an unfamiliar place, and to have such a significant event happen. Significant, and potentially life-threatening, too.

I have had several children. I can remember all four of the deliveries. All of them happened in the hospital, with nurses and doctors standing by. Quite possibly most of the women here who have delivered babies can remember all their deliveries, too. Don’t you think Mary and Joseph remembered this experience for the rest of their lives? Yes, delivering a baby is a special day for anyone. But—even more so, for Mary and Joseph. Because of the angels. And the additional special visitors, too.

As Luke tells us, there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Remember, there is no radio or telephone, no Internet or even telegraph. When messengers personally come to deliver a extra special announcement, it is a big deal. These angels coming to the shepherds, well, that was a super big deal, to be sure!

And the announcement? This isn’t the birth of a normal, ordinary baby. No! This baby is an extra special baby. The Messiah, who will save His people from their sins. Did you hear? This special baby, this Savior, Christ the Lord, is born to you—to me—to all of us, in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.

Did you hear? The Savior, the Christ, the promised Messiah, came into this world as a Baby in Bethlehem. The Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the whole universe, God the Son, emptied Himself of all God-ness. Took on humanity, and was born as a helpless Baby. That is not only good news, that is earth-shaking news. Good news of great joy for all the people. For you, for me, for all of us.

Yes, the promises of Christmas may sound familiar to us. The good news that the angels brought may be old news, to some. But those promises? They are so needed, today. What with uncertainty and fear, anxiety and hatred so common today. Peace and security seem way out of humanity’s reach. Don’t we need some good news right now?

This is good news, this Gospel the angels brought to the shepherds. And they, in turn, told everyone they could about the Child, which the Lord had made known to them. Just as Luke said, all who heard about the Child were amazed at what the shepherd told them.

After that special birth announcement from the angels, and the excited visits from the shepherds, we are left with Mary. Mary who was only a teenager. Mary, who had had nine months to consider this extraordinary pregnancy and upcoming birth.

I cannot imagine a teenager entrusted with such a serious task as bearing the Savior of the world. Yet, Mary must have been up to the task.

Mary must have been a reflective young woman.

We know from verse 18 that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. All of these words, these unfolding events. Another translation has this verse as “Mary was keeping together (sunetare) all these words, bringing them together (sumballos) in her heart.” Keeping together, sunetare, has the sense of integration. Bringing these events together, or sumballos! She was fitting all the puzzle pieces together, bit by bit.

Can we do the same? Can we fit all the puzzle pieces together? Can we slow down, just a little, and wonder at the miracle of that night? I invite us all to listen to the good news of the shepherds.

Stop by that manger in Bethlehem, and be caught up in the wonder of what happened that night, so long ago. The eternal God, Creator of the universe, come to earth as the Babe in Bethlehem.

God gives each of us an opportunity, an invitation to wonder; an invitation to worship the newborn Savior.

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!