Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent Four: For You

A long time ago in a country not so far away a pregnant teenager left her home and family to stumble over rocky roads with a man she hardly knew to a place she didn’t belong.

No Room at the Inn, Eugene Higgins, 1940s, USA
She went under the weight of a dictator’s edict, a pawn in an ongoing enterprise of empire and taxation. Her journey led past mercenary soldiers brandishing well-sharpened swords, through ravines where homeless lepers divided turf with reckless thieves.

There was no room when she reached her destination, and little welcome. Like millions of refugees and migrants before and after, she took what little she was  offered, and waited. 

Her historians don’t record the details of delivery: how many hours in panting and pain, how many minutes of excruciating pushing.  Who held the baby as he struggled into view? Whose dirty knife cut the cord?

In our warm, clean homes, doors and windows safely locked, we miss the weight of sacrifice and glory: the one who sang earth into being turned his back on privilege and power, set aside his right to manage every moment, threw down every shred of safety.

The king of time and space became so small a donkey’s foot could crush him. Chose a place that was no place at all: temporary shelter with a beleaguered people, a migrant on the move, one of the displaced in a world groaning in the grasp of ruthless men thinking only of reputation, power, and indulgence.

Out in the hillsides the rootless, expendable riffraff slept near their sheep in the open air. These were the men of low expectation – landless, powerless, precarious peasants hanging from the fringe of a fragile economy. Nobodies. Nowhere. With not much to offer.

Afraid. No doubt often afraid. Of the silent predators seeking their sheep. Of the roving thieves hungry for meat. Of the soldiers ready to take what they wanted, swords an answer to every objection.

Afraid. Of incurable diseases: everywhere, always. Fevers that could throw a healthy man to the ground and claim his life in hours. Leprosy that lingered for years, slowly stealing fingers, toes, hope, joy, then life itself.

Sometimes in the scripture record angels took human form, walking the same roads as men and women, hiding their brilliance in dusty robes.

Not these angels. They lit up the sky, filled the night, carried a sliver of heaven’s brilliance .

Terrifying brilliance.

Fear not.

What a message to offer, in a world laden with fear.

In a world where darkness pressed hard every night, where every human contact carried possible destruction.
Shepherd and Sheep, Allen Lewis, ca 1930s US

Fear not.

Luke 2:9 says  “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and a  bright light shone around them, and they were sore afraid,” “filled with great fear,” “terrified.”

“Fear not,” the angel said.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.”

The Bible is full of outrageous encounters, but this may be one of the most outrageous.

The message is so personal – and grand.

I bring YOU good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

I wonder how they even heard the words, crouching there on their hillside, unnatural light shining all around them.

You: ragged shepherds.

You: nobodies on a nowhere hill.

News for you, but more than you. News of great joy – for all people. Everywhere.

And this is the news: A Savior has been born TO YOU. He is Messiah, the Lord.

It’s hard to hear what you’re not prepared to hear.

Hard to accept a new idea that crashes the old framework and sends the pieces spinning.

Yet the shepherds did as the angel said: ran to see the savior they’d been offered.

Ran to share the good news that they’d heard.

All that was a long time ago.

We live in a different place, surrounded by protections and provisions unknown to those distant strangers.

Deadbolts on our doors, debit cards in our wallets.

Smart phones that tell us the way and keep us always in touch with family, friends, food, funds.

Otto Schubert, Dresden, Germany
We don’t need God, I’ve been told.

We have science.


We know what’s real. The rest is a crutch.

We don’t need angels.


Dusty old stories with their demanding implications.

We have medications to manage our fear.

Weapons to manage the unexpected troubles.

We have nothing to learn from mother and baby.

Nothing to gain from listening to shepherds.

Yet, even now, on hillsides across the globe, hungry young men wrap their fear around them, waiting, even now, for news. Good news.

And yes, even now, girls not yet women hug their swollen bellies, dream of shelter, grieve for a kindness and mercy they have rarely seen, can barely imagine. Pray their babies will see a peace they themselves have never known.

Even now, on a quiet night, if we go outside and listen, we can almost hear the cries of the homeless infants. Almost hear the tramp of the soldiers’ boots, the hum of the drones, the anxious bleating sheep.

If we listen we can almost hear it.

The surprising song of a teenage girl:

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

If we try, we can almost hear the angel’s words:

Fear not.

I bring you good news of great joy, that shall be to all the people.

There is born to you a Savior -- who is Christ the Lord.

Glory to God in the highest to God,

and on earth peace,

good will to all.

The shepherds ran to see.

The mother treasured the words in her heart.

The child grew to a man who never once took a sword in his own defense.

Who went to his death still proclaiming good news of great joy.

Good news of great joy.

For all people.


And yes, for you.

Every single, blessed you.

This is the fourth in a four week Advent series.
Earlier Advent posts on this blog:

Metanoia,  Dec 4, 2011
Common Miracles,  Dec. 18, 2011
The Christmas Miracle, Dec. 24, 2011 

Mary's Song,  Dec. 19, 2010
Christmas Hope,  Dec. 24, 2010