Saturday, December 24, 2016

Part 4

Many of us see the Birth of Christ through the lenses of Nativity sets and childrens' Christmas pageants; Shepherds in bathrobes, angels in white with chiffon wings and coat hanger halos. Everything quiet and oh so peaceful! And with the uproar that is going on around us at this time of year, the peace is so pleasant.

But if the Birth of Jesus was anything, it was not peaceful. Bethlehem was filled with the descendant's of David, gathered by Roman Decree to be counted an taxed. All of the inns were full, every house was filled with distant relatives, and Roman soldiers were everywhere.

Out in the fields beyond the village; the fields where David had watched his father's sheep, it was probably much quieter. It was, for the most part an ordinary night like the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that as long as any of the shepherds could remember. Whatever they were talking about, it wasn't angels or babies. More than likely they were commenting on the new serving girl at the inn, or the killing of a sheep-eating wolf in a neighboring village, maybe, even the politics of the census, all the things they normally talked about as they sat in the dark watching their charges. Yes, it started out a peaceful night. But then came the angel. Then came the light. The Common English, and the God's Word translations say they were “terrified”. The Modern English says they “were very afraid.” Other translations use “Badly frightened”, “Terror-stricken,” and Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Version says:”It nearly scared the life out of them.” In any event, the announcement and Birth of the Christ Child; the Prince of Peace was far from our peaceful vision.

It wasn't just the presence of the angel. It was all that light. Living in a world of artificial light that makes Time's Square at midnight on New Year's Eve,look like Medford at noon, it's hard for us to grasp. But imagine stepping out of your tent at 2 AM while elk hunting and suddenly the night is as bright as an exploding H-Bomb.
It was more than the angel, it was more than the light, it was the Glory, (literally the very apparent presence) of the Lord God Almighty—the one who was never to be seen, that surrounded them. In the midst of their routine, in the middle of the ordinary, the extraordinary became real. Night became day, dark became light. God has a way of doing that to and with us: transforming our brokenness into wholeness, our despair into joy, our sinfulness into righteousness.

But it doesn't require Angels or bright lights for God to break into our lives. God is the God of the extraordinarily ordinary. God takes the ordinary events of life and makes them extraordinary. Where was Saul when he met Christ? Riding to Damascus, an ordinary event, but God used it in extraordinary ways. Where was Martin Luther when he wrestled with the Biblical truth that we are saved not by works, but Grace? In his study, working on professorial lectures. And ordinary event made extraordinary by God. Where was John Wesley when his heart was strangely warmed? At a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street; he even notes that he went “unwillingly.” an ordinary event made extraordinary by the newly felt presence of Christ. Someone thanks me for something I don't even remember saying in a sermon. An ordinary event made extraordinary by God's using it. A clerk's smile brightens your day, an ordinary event made extraordinary by God.

It's amazing how God works through the ordinariness of life to bring new life. Every
simple act, from taking morning coffee to your spouse, to brushing your teeth, to sitting at your desk, or in a pew is a potential for God; an arena in which God can, and does with some regularity, appear. What a gift to walk on the tiptoe of expectation! To know that at any moment God may break through our routine with the Good News of the Gospel! To know that our lives are the crucible in which God works.

For the shepherds, it began as an ordinary night, but soon became extraordinary. . the Angel, the light of God's glory, the announcement: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And finally, The heavenly host, the Angel Armies, bursting forth in praise: “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” The entire universe, “and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” all those to whom God extends grace, all of us.

And then, as quickly as they appeared, the angels were gone. Gone without a trace. Leaving the shepherds to wonder: “Did you see what I saw?” “Did you hear the angel saying the Messiah was born?” “Did you hear the heavens ringing with God's praise?”
C'mon! Let's go! I don't know about you, but I've gotta see this for myself!” And off they all traipsed to Bethlehem, apparently leaving the sheep to fend for themselves.
16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.

Amazed, but did they believe it? Not everyone. The word translated here as “Amazed” is: Thou-mad-zo; to marvel or to wonder. In a small town like Bethlehem, the birth of a baby, even a baby born in a barn, would not go unnoticed. Many of those the shepherds told probably questioned what they heard. After all, shepherds weren't exactly the most reliable news sources of the day. But the shepherd's persisted, rejoicing and praising God for all to hear. And all who heard, responded. Some wondered, some doubted, some waited for more information, some believed. It is still
the same today, when we proclaim the birth of the Messiah. Not all will accept, but those who do will find peace on earth: not peace as the world gives, or tries to create, but true peace that puts our past behind us and lets us face the future unafraid. Peace of which John Wesley says:
- Peace in general; peace with God and with your own consciences. My peace - In particular; that peace which I (Christ( enjoy, and which I(Christ) create, I (Christ)give - At this instant. Not as the world giveth - Unsatisfying unsettled, transient; but filling the soul with constant, even tranquility.

This is the message of the angels; the good news of Christmas.

The angels of Christmas: messengers, guardians, worshipers, and proclaimers. May you see them all this season. AMEN.  

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