Worship Start Time: 10pm
Theme: Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
Come to Scarboro as we celebrate the peace of Christmas with a service of song and candlelight. Lift your voices alongside the choir and enjoy this rich Christmas tradition!
Christmas Eve (Candlelight Service) 2018
Rev. Lee Spice
When you come to think of it, some of our Christmas traditions are just weird. Take Santa Claus for instance. It comes from the legend of Saint Nicholas, the Fourth Century Bishop of Myra who was known for his faithfulness and said to have engaged in secret gift-giving. In the centuries since his death, legends of great rescues and miracles and wonders arose. From that came the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas and the British figure of Father Christmas.
Add into that, some Germanic solstice legends of a Wodan, who leads a ghostly procession through the sky at Yule, the solstice celebration, plus a famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore, originally titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” but known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” plus some awesome marketing from the Coca-Cola Company, and ta-dah, we have the ubiquitous figure of Santa Claus – red suit, white beard, flying reindeer, and ho-ho-ho!
Perhaps the weirdest thing about all of this is that Santa, cobbled together from pagan and Christian figures, is said to slide down the chimney at night, delivering presents to good little boys and girls. I saw a cartoon once that had a toddler standing up in his crib, saying to his parents, “I don’t want to alarm you, but telling me that a fat bearded man in a red suit is going to sneak into my house tonight is not going to help me get to sleep.”
If you think about it, the whole thing is weird. But it brings for many of us North Americans a certain charm, and a warmth of generosity that is unequalled in the rest of the year.
With that same warmth, we tell the story of Jesus, born in Bethlehem.
Come to think of it, this story is unusual, too. Perhaps it is so familiar that it has become invisible, but the whole idea of a star that points the way to a king that is a baby, shepherds hearing angels singing about this same child, a frantic journey across a hostile land, a virgin birth…it’s all pretty far-fetched. And yet, this is our story. Not just our Christmas story. It is our story.
The story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was written decades after Jesus walked on this earth. Most scholars understand that, although the Bethlehem story is almost certainly not historical, the story has deep truth.
When Jesus grew to be a man, he walked amongst the common folk, and he preached about the coming realm of God. He showed that the love of God was for everyone, and he called people to their highest good when he insisted that people should love their neighbours as themselves and insisted that people even love their enemies.
The words he spoke were deemed to be treasonous, and the powers considered him a threat, and so, he was put to death.
But that is not what we are hearing, today. Today is about the gentle story of Bethlehem. Perhaps, at this time of year, it is less dangerous, less threatening, to bend the knee at an infant’s cradle. It is comforting, as we sing Silent Night, as the church has for 200 years.
Yes, a baby is way less threatening. Or is it? Those who first heard this story lived in a troubled world. It was a world in which kings and dictators ruled with iron fists and power had the last word. There was a tremendous gap between rich and poor. Foreigners and those not a part of the ruling class were viewed with suspicion.
Augustus Caesar was considered to be part God – pillars with his name claimed him to be the Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords.
Into a world whose game plans were all based on power and military might, comes God’s answer: A story of a baby – the most vulnerable of all – born in blood and water and the tearing of flesh. A baby – born in poverty to ordinary parents. A baby – heralded by heavenly messengers and first discovered by common folk – shepherds, who probably didn’t even own their own sheep.
While people’s eyes were trained on the horizon, hoping that their help would come marching from the borders, right under their nose, the Christ child is born. Right under their noses, where you’d least expect it. A baby, who the story says was Emmanuel – God with us. A baby, who is claimed by Christians to be the Prince of Peace. And that is dangerous.
A baby, who would grow to challenge everything about how the world works. A baby, who would grow and share the dream of God for justice and peace.
We ministers are often accused of being too political. How is this not political? The stories of Bethlehem are so familiar, that it would be easy to forget how political this is. How threatening it could be to the status quo. How unexpected it is.
The first hearers of this would have found it weird. The Holy, born in poverty? The Holy, in and among the people? But that’s exactly what it is about.
God’s answer to the troubles of this world is to sneak in where we’re least expecting – to be present in humankind itself. The Holy was, and continues to be, born among us – among us ordinary people.
Where we’re least expecting it.
The Holy is born in our homes, and in our relationships, in our streets, and, yes, maybe even in our politics…bringing to life God’s dream of peace and justice. The Holy is born with every child.
Tonight, what are we expecting?
Are we expecting a quaint story of a child born in Bethlehem, or a challenge to the tyrants of power, right under their noses?
Are we expecting an antiquated legend of God-with-Us that only has its place in our childhood, or a bold testimony that God is still with us?
Are we expecting a small figure who struggles to compete with the sneaky Santa Claus, or are we expecting the Holy to sneak in where we least expect it?
I want to share a poem from the late great Ann Weems:
It was an ordinary event;
women give birth every day.
The baby cries;
the woman puts the child to breast,
and the world goes on.
God did not pitch a tent among us
in an extraordinary way.
Jesus arrived as all of us do,
powerless and dependent,
What ordinary means
for the Son of God!
No royal robes, no crown,
nor was there priestly garb! In fact, there was no garb at all…
just a naked baby
born to dwell among us…
And yet, in that ordinary place,
holy was the night,
for holy were the hearts
of those who heard the word of God
in the ordinary birth cry
of a child.
Beloved of God, may you be surprised by the ordinary, born among us to love and change the world. Amen.
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