I do feel that I failed with my Pauses in Advent. So, in a bid to make up for it, here’s a reflection that I’m giving tomorrow at the Morning Prayer service at church. At least, I’m giving it if the forecasted snow doesn’t arrive too heavily in the night! It rather depends on the weather if I can make the drive to Clermont, but we will see. This is a sermon that I have given before, back in the UK, but it’s one that I need to hear from time to time. The lovely reading from Howard Thurman is new, and comes grace of Peace Bang It really sums up what I wanted to say. Maybe I should just read that, and cut the rest of it!
So, here we are, a few days after Christmas; we’re eating the left-overs from the turkey, the Christmas cake is more than half gone, the mince pies are finished, and the children have had enough of those new toys that they were so desperate to have a few days ago. If you’re anything like me, there’s a distinct feeling of anti-climax, and a slight sense of “Well that’s Christmas over with, let’s look forward to New Year… and then it’s back to work…” It’s all rather a shame really: there is all this build up to Christmas, the tinsel, the glitter, the rushing around the shops, the pressure to have things finished and perfect… and then within a few days it’s all over, and the January Sales are upon us, and we’ve forgotten what Christmas was like. The wrapping paper’s gone, the cards are looking a bit curled at the corners, and everything is back to normal…
Or is it?
I can’t help wondering what the shepherds and wise men felt a few days after the first Christmas day… Was it all a bit of an anti-climax for them? Whenever I start thinking along these lines, wondering what characters from the Bible thought, I seem to always turn to one of my favourite books, “The Book of Witnesses” by David Kossoff. In this book Kossoff tells the story of Christ’s life through the words of ordinary people, people who were there at the events: at the birth, at the wedding in Cana, at the crucifixion. To be honest with you, although I know that, of course, Kossoff was not there, his retelling of the stories in the voices of characters is so compelling, that I can’t help thinking that somehow he had inside information!
Although Seth’s story is a little long, I would like to read it in its entirety, to help us to see how the shepherds might have felt a few days after those wonderful, awesome events.
Reading this started me thinking about how we, as Christians, might feel after the celebrations of Christmas are finished. Whether believers or not, many people throughout the world have experienced, as we have, the joys of Christmas this year. There have been millions of people who cooked a special meal, exchanged gifts, joined with families and friends to celebrate the birth of a child. To many of them it was a momentary bit of excitement; as Seth says “we did as we were told, we spread the word, and people did get excited. But not for long. Nothing lasts.”
And it seems that in these days following Christmas that is the order of the day for the here and now. People did get excited. But not for long.
However, we should be different, because for us, the excitement of Christmas, of Christ’s birth, is more than just a celebration on 25th December. For us, we know that it is more than that.
Like Seth the shepherd held that first Christmas morning in his heart, and, whenever things were difficult, repeated to himself “ It doesn’t matter; I had that night and you didn’t” we, as Christians, should be able to hold a similar thought in our hearts.
For when we asked Christ into our lives, when He was born in our hearts on our personal Christmas day, we became like Seth. We became a part of God’s glory; we became a part of his message of hope to the world: “Peace on earth and goodwill to all.” This wonderful message will not become prophecy however, unless those to whom Christ is a living reality make it so. We should remember and hold the thought that we have seen Christ born into our hearts, and this should make a difference in our lives.
Seth found himself remembering his moment of glory when the tiresome priests at the Temple were nagging him, or being rude. We find ourselves remembering when the children are becoming fractious, when colleagues pile more work on us, when the family seem unappreciative, when there is yet more horror reported on the news which we just cannot comprehend… Whenever things are difficult, and we find ourselves becoming as the world, it is then that we need to remind ourselves that we have, like Seth, known the time when Christ was born, truly into our lives.
And it is then, when being a Christian in the world seems to be such a struggle, and we need to rely so heavily on God’s strength, that we begin to understand how that message of hope, first sung by angel hosts on the morning of Jesus’ birth, can become truth through us.We are the instruments by which peace will come to earth, by which all will know God’s goodwill, but it will only be when we understand, and remind ourselves that we have seen Christ’s nativity in our lives.
I think this reading by the Baptist minister and Civil Rights campaigner Howard Thurman sums up beautifully what I am trying to say:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart
After the excitement died down in Bethlehem, then Seth and the other shepherds were “celebrities” no longer; no-one wanted to hear their story, for there were more recent, and more horrific tales to be told by the parents of the young boys slaughtered by Herod’s men. But they knew they had seen a wonderful, glorious thing, God being born as a human being, and it affected the rest of their lives forever.
After the excitement has died down here in Clermont Ferrand, and the tree has been removed, the turkey eaten and the wrapping paper taken away by the recycling lorry, maybe no-one wants to hear about the sweet baby in a manger for sadly, there are more recent and far more horrific tales being told about a world in desperate need of the Prince of Peace. But we know we have seen a wonderful, glorious thing, God being born in our hearts, and it should affect the rest of our lives, forever.