Thursday, December 22, 2016

Advent - "Meanwhile..."

Shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem
There were shepherds in that region, out in the open, keeping a night watch around their flock. An angel of the Lord stood in front of them. The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ the angel said to them. ‘Look: I’ve got good news for you, news which will make everybody very happy. Today a savior has been born for you – the Messiah, the Lord! – in David’s town. This will be the sign for you: you’ll find the baby wrapped up, and lying in a feeding-trough.’

Suddenly, with the angel, there was a crowd of the heavenly armies. They were praising God, saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,
     and peace upon earth among those in his favour.’


If you've ever listened to one of those old radio programs, the ones your grandparents tuned in every night when they were kids, you'll know what I'm talking about. The hero is crushed with problems, the background music is somber, things are looking bleak. But then the narrator intones, "Meanwhile, on the other side of town...!" And the entire scene changes.

That happens in this scripture.

True, Mary and Joseph had both seen angels nine months ago, and great things were foretold about this child Mary carried. They were told that this was the prophesied one, the Messiah, the hope of all Israel. But since then, nothing much had happened. They remained poor peasants. No other angelic visitations occurred. They eked by on Joseph's job, for which there was precious little demand in a tiny backwater village like Nazareth. The holy infant grew in Mary's womb, but she still had to fetch water, bake bread, fix holes in Joseph's sweaty clothes. Life just went on, like it always did.

And God didn't even do something about that census; the increasingly pregnant teenage girl and her husband still had to make the dangerous, arduous, dusty 90 mile journey to Bethlehem. Why would God allow the woman who carried the "Son of the Most High" to risk having a miscarriage?

Now here they are in a feculent stable -- not even a house! -- while the mother of the Messiah writhes through her birth throes in a pile of bloody, insect infested straw. Look where they would, there was nothing to validate that this was the Messiah being born. For such an event shouldn't there be at least something slightly glorious? It was all so dirty, so pedestrian, so ordinary.

But meanwhile, on the other side of town...


It was ordinary there too. Ordinary shepherds (not an occupation with the best reputation) watching their ordinary sheep, as they always did. And then -- then for a very brief time the curtain between Heaven and Earth parted.

The renowned Angel of the Lord, mentioned throughout their sacred scriptures, stood before these ordinary shepherds, and shafts of indescribably bright, glorious light flooded and transformed the hills. And the Angel proclaimed in heart shaking tones that this ordinary night was not ordinary at all, that in reality the most important event in the history of the universe was happening right here, right now -- right among the filth and the sheep and the bloody straw and the pains of an exhausted young woman in labor. The choir of "heavenly forces" that joined the Lord's Angel sang a hymn that linked these two realities: "Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors."

Where the angelic host lived every being was alive and electric with the overwhelming magnitude of what was taking place in tiny Bethlehem; where Mary and Joseph and the shepherds lived it looked for all the world like business as usual.

As it can for us -- but it's not. As followers of Jesus we serve the High King of the universe, and we are called to perform an all-important mission: To build his Kingdom through self-sacrificing love and the power of the Gospel. We don't have the chance too often to be encouraged by angels and we may get caught up in the sheer ordinariness of our lives, or in our sufferings, or our grief. Is there any significance to my life at all? Do I make any difference?

But there is another reality, the ultimate reality. Meanwhile, on the other side of that curtain is a world that is quite sure of the extraordinary nature of our ordinary lives.

*          *          *

Prayer: Lord of all realities, please give us the miraculous gift of Faith so we can see our ordinary existence through your eyes.  In the name of our King, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

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