Year C Christmas Eve Luke 2
What Was Seen at Bethlehem
Luke 2:1-14 (15-21)




I wonder what I would have heard had I been there that night. It is a question that annually haunts me. Would I have heard the choirs of angels singing or simply the sounds of barnyard animals shifting around? Would I have seen the star in the sky that night or simply two poor and very frightened kids? Would I have understood the hushed silence of the divine presence, or simply the chill of a cold east wind. Would I have understood the message of Emmanuel, God with us, or would the cosmic implications of that evening have passed me by?

I am convinced that had two people been there that night in Bethlehem it is quite possible that they could have heard and seen two entirely different scenes. I believe this because all of life is this way. God never presents himself in revelation in a manner in which we are forced to believe. We are always left with an option, for that is God's way. Thus, one person can say "It is a miracle, while another says "It's coincidence."

Certainly very few people in Palestine saw and heard and understood what took place that night. The choirs of angels singing were drowned out by the haggling and trading going on in the Jerusalem bazaar. There was a bright star in the sky but the only ones apparently to pay any attention to it were pagan astrologers from the East. If anyone did see Mary and Joseph on that most fateful night, they were too preoccupied with their own problems to offer any assistance.

In one of the All in the Family episodes that aired some years ago Edith and Archie are attending Edith's high school class reunion. Edith encounters an old classmate by the name of Buck who, unlike his earlier days. had now become excessively obese. Edith and Buck have a delightful conversation about old times and the things that they did together, but remarkably Edith doesn't seem to notice how extremely heavy Buck has become. Later, when Edith and Archie and talking, she says in her whiny voices "Archie, ain't Buck a beautiful person." Archie looks at her with a disgusted expression and says: "Your a pip, Edith. You know that. You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp. Edith gets a puzzled expression on her face and says something unknowingly profound, "Yeah, ain't it too bad."

You see, what we see and what we hear in life depends not upon the events but rather....




Wondering Wander
Luke 2:1-14 (15-21

Two Christmas movies that have become such a part of popular culture that they both rate their own 24 hour marathon showings during the days before the twenty-fifth.



The first of these is the sentimental Depression-era story It's A Wonderful Life. In this story George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) gets to see what life would have been like for his family and his town if he had never been born. After George sees just how much influence he had on others, how big a difference his presence made for his community, he runs through the street filled with the joyful knowledge that his IS a wonderful life.

But since George Bailey is a grown-up, the events and experiences he learns to re-appreciate as wonderful are the most obviously important occurrences in a grown-ups life: e.g. when he saves his brother's life, when he falls in love, when his children are born, when his business takes off.

The second iconic Christmas movie is A Christmas Story. This is the tale of one boy's 1940's Christmas when his biggest dream was to get a Red Ryder BB gun. Yet since this movie is told from the child's perspective the most remarkable, memorable events of that magical time are seemingly small and insignificant: e.g. snowball fights, really ugly pink bunny pajamas, the class klutz getting his tongue frozen onto the flag pole, a new decoder ring, Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant, and of course, getting that longed-for BB gun. These childish things that created an atmosphere of wonder around the entire

Christmas season transformed every common event into an uncommon wonderment.

Perhaps children are better at finding wonder in their lives and in the world, because they're still so full of wondering. Children are used to not knowing all the answers, they're used to not knowing "why" and they're less worried about asking questions.

Rachel Carson, who ushered in modern-day environmentalism with her crusading book Silent Spring, derived her passion for the natural world from her own experience and study of the stretch of Maine coastline she called home. She could write magnificently and movingly even about plankton, because she spent time observing the workings of nature close at hand. In her small book, The Sense of Wonder, she describes introducing her small nephew to the woods and waters of her homeland. "'If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children,' she writes, 'I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years; the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength'" (Alan Jones & John O'Neil, Seasons of Grace [Hoboken, NJ: John F. Wiley & Sons, 2003], 37-38).

Being connected to the world and all the wonders in it was essential for any good shepherd. Shepherds needed to keep their eyes open for fresh water, fierce predators, tasty grasses, and sneaky thieves in order to keep their flocks safe.

Despite all their responsibilities, however, shepherds were also star-gazers...

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