24 December 2023
Christmas Eve this year focuses on the seemingly ordinary theme of God’s coming to us in Christ. However, the key issue in this coming, is in our capacity to see it, to recognise it, to appropriate it and to make it seen. The surprise, perhaps, of this celebration – that should keep us open-minded and open hearted, and constantly mindful and aware – is that it was the most unlikely people who got to see the birth of Christ, and the expected ones who missed it completely.
May our eyes and be opened to see again for the first time (to borrow a phrase form Marcus Borg) the power of the incarnation for us and our world.
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 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 2:1-20: 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:
The message for Christmas Eve is clear and simple: in Christ, God comes to us. There are so many ways this can be – and has been – understood: God’s presence is not far off, but close and accessible; those who are first involved in this coming are poor and excluded people – shepherds, women, and foreigners – which demonstrates God’s commitment to justice. But, perhaps at the heart of all this is the question of seeing. Isaiah calls Ahaz to ‘see’ God’s work – God’s light shining in the darkness – on behalf of God’s people. The Psalmist invites all the earth and all peoples to see God’s glory and majesty, to recognise God’s coming in justice and righteousness and to respond in praise; Paul encourages followers of Christ to see God’s grace that has come, and to live it out as we watch for the coming of God’s reign in fullness; The shepherds are invited to see the Christ child, and in this event, see God’s coming to them and to all humanity. If God comes, but we are not open to the visitation, if we have closed eyes and hearts, the coming can do nothing for us. However, when we allow our eyes to be opened, we discover God’s coming in every moment and place.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: A significant part of the work of justice is a commitment to seeing – as clearly and truly as possible – both the realities of our world, and the injustices in it, and the signs of change, progress and God’s reign that are emerging. It is only with this seeing that we can encourage, support and strengthen the good that is happening and effectively challenge the darkness. So, in the growing concern about climate change and our dependence on non-renewable sources of energy, there is a light shining in the darkness. In the growing groups within faith communities of those who seek inter-faith dialogue and understanding rather than conflict and dominance, there is a sign of God’s coming. In the rise of social entrepreneurship, we see God’s grace at work in our world. In the growth of fair trade movements, ethical consumerism, and sustainable and humane farming, there is light in our world. All of these are signs of God’s coming – the influence and growth of God’s reign – among us. Each offers us the opportunity to cooperate with what God is doing in our world. And each also offers the challenge to continue to assess our lives against Christ’s standard, and to change to embody the Gospel where necessary.
LOCAL APPLICATION: God’s coming into our world, miraculously, is not just to communities, nations and the whole earth, but also to individuals. In each of our lives we have the opportunity to see God’s coming, and we have the responsibility to acknowledge the places where we have resisted or ignored God’s desire to enter our lives. Where we find ourselves growing more aware of God’s presence and purpose in our daily routines, where we discover new capacities for compassion, humility, simplicity and joy, where we find ourselves becoming more whole in spite of the struggles of living in this world, we have seen God’s coming to us. Where we remain stuck in destructive attitudes and habits, where we continue to allow our selfishness and fear to break down relationships, where we fail to allow our eyes to be opened to God’s image in others, we have failed to welcome the Christ Child into our lives. Ultimately, what the incarnation tells us, dramatically and powerfully, is that Christ came not just to get us into heaven, but to bring heaven to this earth. To the extent that our lives reflect this heaven – to the extent that we become more Christ-like and just in our own daily lives – we are the blessed ones to whom God has, once again, come.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Welcome To Our World
You Have Come To Us
The Familiar Story
Joy To The World
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Do You Hear What I Hear? (Link to YouTube video)
Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground)
A King Is Born (Link to YouTube video)
Born In Bethlehem
Welcome To Our World (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy for Advent & Christmas
Christmas – Birth