The Power of the 'Same Old Story'
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
So here we are -- another Christmas Eve.
There has been a hectic pace that has preceded this day even though in theory we have been in a period of vigilant waiting and patient preparation for the revealing of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ. Throughout this day believers and those yearning to believe along with those who want to believe again will gather for worship. Some will come out of piety and devotion, others still out of custom, duty and habit. Surely there will be those in the midst who are on a spiritual quest for which they do not yet have vocabulary, liturgy or ritual. By God's grace the incarnate God will meet each pilgrim tonight.
There will be singing, candles, communion, generous giving. Oh yes, there will be scripture and preaching. The story will be told.
This reminds me of a story I heard some years ago that describes a family headed to church on Easter Sunday morning. It could easily have described a family headed to Christmas Eve service. Imagine parents in the front seat of the car and a restless, overdressed, precocious and frustrated pre-adolescent youngster in the back seat of the vehicle. Suddenly the child blurts out, “I don't see why we have to go to church today. They're just going to tell the same story again."
He was and is right.
Thank God that the same story will be told in services this day in churches all around the world. It is a timeless story with relentless relevance for every age. Surely our time is no exception.
We are unusually ripe for the message of the Christmas story. None of us can exhaust the meaning, power and relevance of the story but allow me to suggest a few ways the narrative of God's love through the birth of the babe speaks to us and our age.
The human heart and life yearns to be addressed meaningfully. We want and need to know that our lives and the conditions in which we live are taken seriously by God. When we immerse ourselves in the birth narratives found in Matthew and Luke and understand the historical conditions they describe as well as the audiences they were addressing we get a huge heads-up that God meets humanity where we live our lives. So when you hear the "same story" again, listen deeply for all the ways the God we serve, worship and proclaim connects with real people then and now.
Then as now, there is a deep spiritual hunger and thirst that can only be met and satisfied by the God we know in Jesus Christ. There is despicable poverty in the midst of unbelievable opulence and wealth. There are people living with unwelcome and undeserved shame. Indigenous people find their homelands occupied by foreign powers. People are forced to migrate to simply survive. Amidst all of this and so much more God speaks and comes alongside the hopes, hurts and fears of people. Christmas reminds us God indeed is with us. Jesus the Christ is Emmanuel.
We are not alone. God has pitched tent and made common cause with us. In the Christmas story we are reminded and reassured that God is subverting what is in order that we can live in God’s reign.
So indeed we will tell, hear, dramatize and sing the same story again. Let us do so with unembarrassed conviction and without apology. Let us ring it out with joy. Because tonight as on a night long ago in Bethlehem, “The hopes and fears of all the years…”
Your servant in Christ Jesus,
Gregory V. Palmer
By: Bishop Gregory V. Palmer On 12/23/2011