by Christine Sine
It is the second day of Christmas – the 12 days starting with Christmas day that mark the celebration of the birth of Christ.
In the sixth century it was decided that celebrating Christmas just for a day didn’t provide enough time to celebrate all the joy that Christ’s birth brought into the world. They made Christmas into a twelve day festival that ended with a feast on the Eve of Epiphany on January 5th to celebrate the coming of the wise men and the emergence of God’s eternal kingdom. Yep that’s right, for those of us who are Christ followers, the 12 days of Christmas begin with Christmas Day they don’t end there as many malls would have us believe. In countries where this understanding of Christmas has not been co-opted by the commercialism of our society Christmas trees are not decorated until Christmas Eve and remain in the house sparking with light and life until the Eve of Epiphany.
So what are we celebrating this Christmas season?
For many of us this has been a challenging year and we are not sure that this message of God’s peace is really being birthed in a world in which hate and violence seems to have the upper hand. Memories of Aleppo, Berlin, Brexit, political ugliness make us wonder if peace is possible at all.
Yet in the Christmas message there is a message of such hope that it changed the world 2,000 years ago and continues to change it when we take it seriously.
What do we learn from the Christmas story
We need to listen to the angels.
The angels came to the shepherds with an unbelievable message – the Messiah was born in their neighbourhood and they were invited to come and meet him.
Earlier in the story the angel Gabriel came to Mary with an equally unbelievable message – she who was a virgin was pregnant and would give birth to a son who would be the saviour of the world.
What is most remarkable is both Mary and the shepherds listened and believed the angels. They listened to a message of peace and hope when the world around them was in chaos. They believed a message of peace when they lived in world in which the Roman empire maintained its power with violence.
What we forget is that the heavenly messengers reaffirm this message of peace every Christmas. In the midst of a world of violence God’s peace has been birthed and will be birthed again and again and again until the world is transformed. We need to listen and believe.
We need to Let Go Our Fears.
We live in a world filled with fear. Fear of the other who is different. Fear of violence against us and our countries. Fear of loss of economic stability. It is hard to let go our fears but again the angels come to us and say “Be not afraid”.
The shepherds were terrified by the angels yet somehow found the courage to see beyond their terror, believe the message the angels brought and respond. It could not have been easy for them. Not only were the angels scary, but going into the village must have been scary too. They were the despised, the rejected, the homeless ones. Not the kind of people that most of the villagers would have welcomed. Certainly not the ones who would be welcomed to see a newborn baby.
It is easy to make excuses for why we don’t expose ourselves fully to the light of Christ. Letting God find us in the hidden places we retreat to when we are afraid to show what we are really like can be terrifying. To draw close to the Christ who is being birthed in our midst is scary. It means stepping out of our comfort zones into a new world in which we don’t always feel comfortable.
Christmas Invites Us to Believe the Unbelievable
The shepherds believed the unbelievable. Not only was the Messiah born in their humble neigbourhood, but they were welcome, in fact encouraged to come and meet him. How profoundly redemptive this message must have been for them – they, the despised and unwelcomed by society were welcome at the bedside of the king of Kings.
Mary and Joseph believed the unbelievable too. They believed that his child conceived out of wedlock to their humble family would bring down the rich and powerful and raise up the poor and the marginalized.
The wise men from the East also believed the unbelievable – that they as foreigners would be welcome at the birth place of the one who was destined to be king of the Jews.
In the Christmas sermon we heard preached a couple of days ago, John Dixon, speaking about the birth of Jesus said
God has stepped onto the world stage, at the lowest point imaginable. At the very moment Augustus is flexing his muscles and Herod is shaking his fist, God, we are told, enters the mess, humbly, from below. And he does so in order to turn the whole thing upside down.
He goes on the say:
Everything about the story – indeed, the whole story of Jesus – says that God will reverse the mess by first getting his hands dirty. He will mend the world by first being injured. He will enter the noise, only to transpose it into a beautiful tune. Mary’s song will become the world’s song. And joy will pierce the sadness, fully and forever.
And it is true. Joy will pierce the sadness fully and forever. This is the Christmas promise. May we all take time to listen, let go our fears and believe once more the unbelievable story of God.