Advent 4
The Rev. Rod Sprange

Going and Seeing for Ourselves

One year at Christmas while I was the incumbent at St. Barnabas, I wanted to make Christmas Eve a storytelling experience for the children. In our congregation were a brother and sister in their late 20’s early 30’s who were amazingly creative and imaginative, and committed to the litirgy. I mentioned to them that I wished I could tell the kids the Christmas story sitting around a camp-fire in front of the chancel steps.  On Christmas Eve, late afternoon, I arrived at the church to set up for the early service, I discovered there was a wonderful campfire, complete with twigs and logs and made to look as though it was burning with lights under red, yellow and orange paper. With the church lights turned low the camp-fire was perfect.

I had the kids sit around the campfire for the Gospel. I told the kids not to get too close to the fire, I didn’t want them burning themselves. I told them the birth story based on Luke’s Gospel. It was lovely to see their faces glowing as they faced the fire and listened to the story of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds on the hillside.

After the service, a grandma asked her grandson if he had enjoyed the camp-fire. He looked up at her and in a whisper said “I’ll tell you a secret, It wasn’t real”.

And I’ll tell you a secret, whatever else in this world is fake, the birth of Christ, Emmanuel is real. Christ is real. And you have been entrusted with this truth. The impossible, the incredible, is true.

Throughout the Gospels people are invited to go for themselves and see the reality of God made flesh, to see the impossible that God had done and is doing. To see the true nature of God our creator.  For instance, in the passage from Luke today, we heard how after Mary had been visited by the Angel and told she was to bear God’s Son, she was told that her old cousin, Elizabeth, was also expecting a baby, Mary went to visit Elizabeth. She went to see this miracle for herself. And to share her own miracle with Elizabeth. Tomorrow night at the early service the children will hear how the Shepherds, after being the first to be told the wonderful news of the birth of our saviour, said, “Let us go for ourselves and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us”.  

In Matthew’s birth narrative it is wise men from the East who go to see for themselves, the child who had been born King of the Jews. In John’s version of the Gospel, Andrew and another disciple of John The Baptist , started to physically follow Jesus as he walked by. He said to them “what are you looking for”. They answered “Teacher, where are you staying?” Jesus said “Come and see. Phillip, telling Nathaniel about finding the Messiah, Jesus, said to him “Come and see”. We are constantly invited to “come and See”. As Christian disciples it is our calling to respond to that invitation and to invite others to come and see.

Advent is partly a time of waiting to come and see once more. It is also a strange time, it is a time of waiting for Christ, and for his birth, and for Christmas to turn the world upside down. But it is also a time when we know that it has already happened. Mary sang about the turning upside down of the world in the past and present tenses - yet was clearly singing about what was coming. What God had promised was about to happen, and it had started in the most unlikely person. Mary and Elizabeth teach us to understand that with the coming of Christ, God’s reconciling plan is already underway. We can’t wait for it’s completion to act because we are part of the action - we are the continuing Gospel story, set at a point in time somewhere between the Acts of the Apostles and Revelation. This is wonderful news. You have been chosen to be part of Christ’s mission. Chosen to bear the Gospel.

Mary burst into joyful song with the knowledge that God was not only acting but had chosen her to take an important part. God had honoured and blessed her and she rejoiced in that blessing. But she also rejoiced in the knowledge that God was acting to fulfill God’s promises of salvation for Israel.

And God has chosen us too, to take part in the fulfilment of those promises - and we need to rejoice with Mary. As one of my favourite hymns goes - “You are a blest and a pilgrim people.” We are called to be a blessing to the world, salt for the earth, a light on the hill, a seed of the word - all to bring forth the kingdom of God. We are called to make manifest the promises of the birth of the Messiah

Karoline Lewis, a theologian and associate professor at the Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota wrote “The birth of Jesus, the Word made Flesh, is never, and never can be celebrated, without our participation in and manifestation of its promises”.

Celebrating Christmas each year should change us, renew us and move us to be the Good News in the world. Now, I know for many people the day after Boxing Day means Christmas is over. Take down the tree, pack away all the baubles and throw out the torn wrapping paper. And get back to reality.

No! Christmas is never over. Christmas is reality - God’s reality. Our celebration of the season of Christ’s birth moves on to the season of Epiphany on January 6th, but Christ’s birth happened, once for all time - Immanuel, God with us. We are the ones chosen to keep on telling the Good News of Christ, of all that God is doing, and we tell the Good News best, by our actions.

  • when we visit the sick,
  • when we act with kindness and generosity
  • when we offer the hand of peace  
  • when we go and see what God is doing in the world
  • when we magnify or proclaim the greatness of the Lord

We are inspired to live the Gospel when we recognize all the good things God is doing in us, how God is honouring us (miserable creatures as we may be at times), but still choosing us to carry God’s child in our hearts, and to deliver the Good News to the world.

Advent is a time of anticipation and wonder. Tomorrow night Christmas will be here. Can you remember the excitement and anticipation of waiting for Christmas when you were a child? Probably excitement about Santa Claus coming and the presents and surprises you were waiting to receive. Remember how difficult is was to get to sleep, and the wonder at the stocking that had been filled in the night?

That’s the kind of excitement and anticipation we need to rekindle about the coming again of Christ. To have a sense of wonder that the gift of Christ has been placed right within us. O to be like Mary and Elizabeth and need to share our good fortune. O to need to share this with a world hungry for good news - the Good News that God loves all of us, and has promised that one day all peoples will be reconciled and love God and that there will be peace on all God’s Holy mountain.

Our time of waiting this year is nearly over. Tomorrow night, or Christmas morning come and see and celebrate that Christ our saviour is born. Come and see the light of Christ shining in our midst.

Our time of waiting for the Parousia, Christ’s second coming, continues. But, while we wait for Him, we must not wait to act. This is not a time for passive waiting. It is a time for joyfully, and urgently sharing God’s love and God’s Good News.

May our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour, and may we be heralds of the Good News of Emmanuel. Amen