24 December 2012

Since it is the Year of Luke (Year C) in the Lectionary, the inclusivity and subversive justice of God’s Reign can shine through the Gospel reading for Christmas Eve this year. It is tempting to avoid the struggles and injustice of the world during the Christmas season and opt instead for message of happiness and beauty. But, unless we take the radically transforming nature of God’s Reign seriously – since it is the reason Christ came – we miss the point of the season, and we miss an opportunity to be witnesses to, and agents of, God’s liberating Reign.

May we celebrate the justice and inclusivity of God as we gather around the manger in worship this year.

READINGS: 
Isaiah 9:2-7: God offers a sign of God’s grace and protection to the King and people of Judah – in the darkness light shines, and the birth of a child is the sign of new life and of God’s righteous kingdom to be established.

Psalm 96: A song of praise for God’s greatness and glory, anticipating God’s coming as righteous judge.

Titus 2:11-14: Through Christ God’s grace has appeared and God has enabled us to live lives of goodness.

Luke 2:1-14 (15-20): Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the Emperor’s census, and while there Mary gives birth to her son. Shepherds are told by angels about the birth and find the place where the holy family is to be found, telling the story of what they have been told about the child.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Though the Gospel reading for Christmas Eve is from Luke every year, this year it is particularly significant since it is Year C in the Lectionary – the year of Luke. This means that the unique voice of Luke’s Gospel can shape the way we approach our celebration this year. Two things stand out when we bring Luke’s perspective to bear on the readings for Christmas Eve. Firstly, Luke is most concerned among the Gospel writers with the Christ’s inclusion of outsiders. This inclusivity is a strong theme in the Scriptures for Christmas Eve. Isaiah’s promise of liberation is for all the people, and the sign is the birth of a humble child. Psalm 96 invites all of creation to celebrate God and participate in God’s salvation. Titus also recognises that God’s grace brings salvation to all. Finally, in Luke’s Gospel, it is the humble family, and the outcast shepherds who are at the centre of God’s work, not the powerful people mentioned at the start of the chapter. Secondly, Luke’s proclamation of the Reign of God includes spiritual, physical and social dimensions. Justice is a strong emphasis in Luke, and in the story of Jesus’ birth, the writer adopts the language that was usually used for Caesar and applies it to Jesus in a subversive way. For this Gospel, it is not the baby that is the focus, so much as the Reign of God which was established in the world through the Christ. What this means for us as we meditate on Luke’s birth narrative is that we are called to celebrate a radically new order that comes into our world in Christ, and that expands to include all people and all creation. Our celebration, then, is not just a recognition of Christ’s coming, but also an embrace of this new way of being – the Reign of God – which was established through the coming of Christ.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Global Application:
The big challenge of the Christmas story is the call to embrace the radically new order of God’s Reign. The subversive nature of the Gospel reveals that God’s Reign exists within human systems of power, wealth and status, but subverts, undermines and transforms them. It requires faith to believe that God’s Reign really can change systems that seem so entrenched in our human society that they feel like they’re eternal. But, ultimately the Roman Empire, which was the power of Christ’s time, collapsed, as has every human empire in history. It is important then, as we work for justice and compassion in our world, to remember that the injustices we face are limited and temporary. As huge as the challenges we must face are, they arise out of systems that are subject to the inevitable forces of history, of evolution and of change. When we remember this, and remember the subversive power of God’s Reign, we can begin to work as agents of these transforming forces, beginning with our own hearts and then moving on the organisations and communities within which we work. What we must avoid, though, is the temptation to align ourselves with these human systems too strongly. It’s not that we necessarily oppose them – God’s Reign exists even within our corrupt systems, if we can learn to see it. But, we do not allow these systems to impose values on us that contradict those of God’s Reign, and we remain critical of the injustice, corruption, power abuse and greed that we will inevitably encounter in our world. In this way we follow Jesus to become, in our own way, incarnations of God’s Reign. And as we do so, we, like Christ, will find ourselves going to the outcasts, the humble, the vulnerable and the marginalised. If we can embrace this call, then the celebration of Christmas really will be “peace on earth and goodwill to humanity”.

Local Application:
In every community there are those who are left out, and who are unable to enjoy the benefits of security, companionship, financial stability and shelter that others do. This does not just include those who are homeless or outcast, necessarily. It may also include those who seem to be just like us, but who hide their struggles behind tight smiles, or who live with visible challenges like chronic diseases or physical disabilities. It may include those who are lonely, but don’t show it, or those who live with abuse but are forced to cover it up. It is for these people that the Christmas story can be so liberating. In God’s coming to us, we see a level of care and involvement that is radically transforming and challenging. On the one hand we can enjoy the comfort of knowing that whoever we may be, God visits us, as God did the shepherds. On the other hand, like the shepherds, we discover that we are called to bear witness to the grace and incarnation of God – which means that we will find ourselves engaging with those with whom we may not usually spend time. While our society tends to make this season about what we receive and enjoy, the Gospel of Luke asks us to make this season about how we can be agents of God’s grace and transformation and healing for others. This requires us to step out of ourselves and our comfort zones, and be willing to reach out to be a safe, healing and liberating place for those around us.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Welcome To Our World
You Have Come To Us
Silent Night
The Familiar Story

Hymn Suggestions:
Joy To The World
O Come, O Come Immanuel
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Do You Hear What I Hear? (Link to YouTube video)
Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground)
What Kind Of Throne?
Born In Bethlehem
Welcome To Our World (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for Advent & Christmas

Video Suggestions
:
Christmas
Christmas – Birth

Drama Scripts:
Colours and Kings
The Foolishness Of Christmas

Image Suggestion:
Nativity

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