Chaplain's Sermon from Carols Service
God’s entrance into the world was nothing overly dramatic. Some may say it was a little understated or peculiar. This meant that only those who were extremely attentive to the world around them were going to notice that something extraordinary was taking place on that first Christmas night.
The Three Wise Men fitted into this ‘category’ of being extremely attentive. They were experts, you could say, at observing carefully what was happening around them and they looked out at the world with wonder and curiosity. They were understood to be like a group of current day astrologers. And, so, when they saw a new star appear in the sky, they went to find out what it meant and discovered from the Jewish Chief priests and scribes, that it was understood to be a sign that God would be sending his Messiah into the world. Clearly the Three Wise Men were naïve about such signs, as they were not religious in any way, and yet they were one of the first groups of people to notice that God was going to be entering into the world, like God had never entered the world before.
In our modern world, in 2018, we tend to be attentive to one thing. I am, of course, referring to our devices- our phones, our iPads, our laptops. Perhaps if we were to lift our heads a bit more and look at the world around us in the same way those Three Wise Men did, with awe and wonder, we might start to ponder the all-important question of ‘where is Christ in our midst today?’.
If we are going to take this rather courageous step, then we need to be open to the sorts of signs God might show us, to lead us into His/Her presence. We might think God no longer uses the stars, or any part of the natural for that matter, to signal that Christ is near. We probably think such signs are ridiculous. But, maybe, we are the ridiculous ones for limiting how God communicates with us. Just like the Three Wise Men , we need to discern from Scripture and from talking to spiritual leaders if the signs we notice could actually be from God- but the important thing is not to simply dismiss such signs as being nothing, or we might be missing out on God’s transforming love in our lives- and this is not something we can afford to miss.
I think it would be fair to assume that the most likely people to notice that God is going to enter this world would be really-religious people (as my students would say), and certainly religious leaders. But as I mentioned earlier, the Three Wise Men were not Jewish, and they were not religious. They consulted kings about interpreting stars, signs, and omens. Today, we might call such people, ‘alternative’, ‘hippy’, or ‘weird’. But what this gets us thinking about is, ‘who can notice that God is with us’? It was not the religious people 2000 years ago, so maybe in today’s world, the people who are aware that God is with us, do not always identify with being religious either. To be honest, sometimes when we see ourselves a super-religious that is what robs us of our curiosity, and can prevent us from being open to the mysterious ways that God chooses to work in our world.
This opens our minds to the fact that God is willing to make His/Her presence known to anyone who has eyes to see, and ears to listen. God certainly does not seem too concerned with whether someone understands themselves to be religious, before sending signs of love their way. This means that all of us, any of us, regardless of our religious background, have the ability to notice God’s presence with us. The reality is that God does not see us as religious or non-religious, as Christian or non-Christian. That is how humans see each other. God see us all as His/Her children, and God wants us all to know He/She is in our midst.
It is interesting to notice as well, that even though the Three Wise Men had no religious background, they responded to the baby Jesus with worship- ‘They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’- and gave him the gifts people would usually only give royalty- exotic incense, oil, and gold. So clearly when they saw Jesus lying in the manger, he awakened something inside of them that satisfied and fulfilled their every longing.
Of course, not everyone was happy about Christ’s arrival into the world. King Herrod was ‘unsettled’ by the news that there was a new king in his territory. It is sort of strange to think that a baby boy lying in a dirty manger, with only a handful of ‘odd’ (not highly prestigious) people surrounding him, could be perceived as a threat to anyone. And this humble beginning of Jesus’ life was how he continued to be, as he grew up and began his ministry. He had conversations with people, he taught them, healed them, had dinner with them. But it was this gentle power of love that unsettled people. And not just kings. All of us.
God’s tender love in the person of Christ reminds us of who we really are- that we are human, not superhuman. That we are vulnerable, not invincible. We can spend much of lives trying to avoid these truths, but when we face Christ, we realize that being human means we are God’s children and loved beyond measure. And that is when everything makes sense and we experience complete wholeness- which is what I imagine the Three Wise Men, the shepherds, and Mary and Joseph all discovered on the first Christmas night. And we can share that discovery with them if we are open and willing.
The Lord be with you…