Rev. Ed Searcy
University Hill United Church : Mon, December 25, 2006
Mary and Joseph are engaged, but not married. They are far from home. They have no family with them, no friends, no help. There is no room for them at the inn. They find shelter from the cold night in a barn. When their unexpected, miracle child is born they are all alone. Just the two of them. The story of God’s entry into the world could not be more humble or more hidden. The birth would pass by unnoticed except for the message. Everything rests on the message and the messengers. It is still true. The message is passed from one person to another, from one culture to another, from one generation to another. Tonight we gather to hear the message. It is the beginning of our life together. It begins with a message. The message is first spoken to shepherds. Not to the king. Not to the priests. To the shepherds. Maybe it is because they are labeled unclean and untrustworthy, among the poor and outcast. Maybe the message comes to them because it is always first a message to poor and outcast people like the shepherds. Or maybe the message comes to the shepherds because every king is a shepherd of the people, the leader of the country. Maybe the message comes to shepherds because it is news of the birth of the Good Shepherd who will lead us to peace and lead the nations to justice. Or maybe the message comes to the shepherds simply because they are awake in the night and are close by and someone needs to come and see and tell the news. The message is first heard by shepherds. It is a shocking message. It is shocking because it comes out of the blue. It comes unexpectedly. We think that we expect it. It is Christmas Eve, after all. We think we are prepared. We think we know it. But the message still breaks unexpectedly through our certitudes and doubts and ache. There is a messenger - a preacher - from God. Suddenly someone here sees the glory of the Lord shining all around. The glory of the Lord is the power and energy and life force of God. It’s very heavy. That is the definition of glory in Hebrew - “heavy, weighty, gravity”. God’s glory is terrifying, awesome, overwhelming. You see it by feeling it. It suddenly changes everything. It makes a moment an eternity. It tells you to listen closely because this is a time for the truth to be told and heard. God’s glory shines still. It makes the people very quiet, very attentive, very open to the message. Maybe you can see it, feel it now. It is at this moment that the angel - the messenger - gives the message. It is not frightening news. It is not bad news. It is amazing news. It is good news of great joy. It is gospel. In the birth place of the great shepherd David a new Good Shepherd of the people has been born - a Saviour, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord. The infant will be known by a sign - he is the babe wrapped in cloth bands and lying in a manger. It might be too unbelievable but then a huge heavenly choir sings the greatest Christmas carol ever heard: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among people.” We could be terrified. We could think that we are dreaming. We could decide to stay put and ignore the message. Or we could join the shepherds in trusting the messenger. They get up and make haste to Bethlehem. They find the baby in the manger. They tell what they have been told. They tell the shocking message. This little baby is the Saviour, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord. They report it. Everyone who hears the message is amazed. Except for Mary. Mary has already been amazed. She has been amazed since the angel Gabriel first gave her the message that she would bear God’s child. Mary treasures the message and ponders it in her heart. Like we do here, tonight. It is the reason we are here. The message has been delivered. It has been trusted. It has been found true. And it has been passed on. We are a people of the message. We receive the message. It comes in the voices of those who live the message powerfully. We come looking for a sign, for evidence that it is true, for the presence of God’s Saviour. We live with open minds and hearts, expectant and hopeful, waiting for God’s Messiah to save lives. Then, when we are saved from despair and grief and oppression - when we discover that the message is the truth - then we can’t help but become God’s messengers. Receive the message of good news and great joy. Live expectantly, trusting the promise that God will save your life. When you discover that it is true, when the Good Shepherd finds your lost and lonely soul, do not be shy. Tell it on the mountain, in the neighbourhood, to your children and grandchildren. It is a saving message, entrusted to shepherds and farmers, to elders and children, to those who stutter and stumble and surely could not possibly be God’s messengers. It is a saving meessage for you. And it has been entrusted to you. Even you.