Christmas musing. So, this is Christmas. What next?

This is my Christmas Eve reflection for the joint worship of Wesley Uniting Church and Canberra Baptist Church. 

The Shepherd’s Story 

In that region,
shepherds lived,
watching over flocks
in fields.

On that night,
in those fields,
an angel standing
startled shepherds.

The angel spoke,
to calm their fear
with good news
of great joy for all.

A baby born
in David’s town,
your long awaited hope
he is: Messiah! See!

Go find the child,
wrapped up tight,
lying in a manger.

A multitude - a
sudden multitude
of singing, praising,
angels - Glory be
to Holy One, and peace
be known on earth.

A silence - a sudden,
still and shocking
silence fell
among the shepherds.

Then urgency, we
must go - now -
to Bethlehem, to find
this hope, this child.

On that night
shepherds left
their fields, their
flocks, and flew
into town in a flurry -

then fell to silence,
once again,
at the foot
of a newborn’s bed.

Mary heard,
Joseph heard,
everyone awake
heard the shepherd’s tale.

Angels and singing,
shock and running,
silence and awe and wonder.

Mary took the shepherd’s
story like treasure
to enfold
in her heart.

Back to the flocked
fields the shepherds
floated home:

such excitement
they’d known in that
region, on that startling,
hope-filled night.

[Sarah Agnew, pray the story]

And now I want you to imagine, what next?
What next?

The magic, the awe, the wonder.
the surprise, the rush, the silence
the return, when nothing has changed –
the sheep are still there,
foxes still lurking, threatening theft from the fields,
soldiers still lurking, threatening theft from the towns
and yet – the shepherds return knowing everything has changed.

For now they have joy. a sense of peace in the midst of the chaos of occupied, oppressed life … they have hope.

What difference does hope make?
what difference does it really make to know God is with us, has seen, heard, come among us?

Tonight we are inviting you into the mystery, the awe, the wonder – into the story again.
And entering the story again, may we be met by the hope, the joy, the peace, the love of that story
Entering the story, may we be drawn towards the flickering light
Entering the story, may we encounter the Holy …

and then what.
then what?

(sung - tune of God rest you, merry, gentlemen) *

God give you comfort, gentle folk,
disturb you on the Way;
remember Jesus, child of Love,
was born on Christmas day
to save us all from tyranny,
for we have gone astray.

O, story of justice, peace and joy, peace and joy.
O, story of justice, peace and joy.

We like to sing of our comfort and peace and joy at this time of year. But is that why God came among us as Jesus?
You see, we are the privileged, most of us gathered here, the relatively wealthy. Jesus came to disturb us.
The comfort Jesus brings is for the poor, the outsiders.
Jesus brings challenge to those of us who have freedom, power, to go with Jesus to the margins, and share what we have so that not only we, but all, may have enough.
the comfort for the poor and outcast is in the hope of justice.
those of us who have the freedom to do so must work with God for that justice.

So, approaching the manger, falling still and silent in awe means nothing if we find here only platitudes and reassurance of our own comfort.
I believe we are called by the story, by God, to approach the manger as God enters humanity: vulnerable.
We are called to approach the Christ-child expecting to be challenged, disturbed, changed.

(sung - tune of God rest you, merry, gentlemen) *

From Spirit, Wisdom, Creator,
the blessed angels came,
revealing to the shepherds:
the world has changed today!
A child is born, to Mary,
the Son of God, by name.

O, story of justice, peace and joy, peace and joy.
O, story of justice, peace and joy.

Mary treasured the stories of the shepherds as they gathered in awe to see her son; she pondered them in her heart. I wonder if their hope and joy, their love for her son, their sense of peace at God coming among them in this way, gave her courage in later years?

There’s a story I tell of an Anabaptist woman, Elizabeth, in Holland during the Protestant Reformation. She wrote a letter to her daughter, born in prison while Elizabeth awaited the martyrdom to which her husband, not being pregnant, had already preceded her. The letter speaks of trust in God; speaks with hope, with courage in the midst of her grief. Elizabeth is to me a light of courage in the face of the fear of difference that had led other Christians to persecute her and take her and her husband’s life.

Hope is a powerful thing. It helped Elizabeth maintain her integrity of conviction.

Encounter with God gives us such hope – which Elizabeth tells her daughter, which the shepherds show in their story. Having encountered God in the story of Jesus’ birth, what can we do with such hope, for ourselves, and on behalf of our neighbours?

In the suite of stories in which I place Elizabeth’s story, I also tell of St Magnus of Orkney, who gave his life in order to end a conflict that robbed his people of peace. Faith in God, the story tells us, encounter with God, inspired his courageous and rebellious commitment to peace. He spent the years of obligatory service in his King’s army praying on board the ships, refusing to fight. He later jointly inherited the kingship of Orkney with his cousin, after which mistrust bred between supporters of the two leaders, leading to violence and disruption. He told his cousin to take his life, if that was what it would take to ensure peace in the islands. and his cousin did so.

Courageous acts of love, hope, peace come in all shapes and sizes. I wonder what your encounters with God have inspired in you?

How might the Divine transform our relationships with others, so that the hope and love we find here is seen in our acts of kindness, generosity, courage, integrity? How might we shine the Divine light in the face of damaging fear?

Tonight, we invite you into the story, into the awe and wonder. Come, vulnerable, as Jesus came among us, vulnerable.
Come and be still, as the shepherds were still with that peace we hardly understand.
Come, and be changed – for why else do we come? Why else did God come among us as one of us, if not for transformation, the restoration of our being? If not to inspire us to join in this radical work of hope and love?

(sung - tune of God rest you, merry, gentlemen) *

Now to our God sing praises,
all you within this place,
and with true loving kindness
each other do embrace;
thus Christ is born, and born again -
we need his light to blaze.

O, story of justice, peace and joy, peace and joy.
O, story of justice, peace and joy.


*Verses and refrain: 'A story of justice, peace and joy.'
Words: (c) Sarah Agnew 2018.
Tune: God Rest You Merry Gentlemen


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