Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It Makes Me Wonder...

This week we get two sets of lectionary texts: one for Christmas Eve, and one for the First Sunday in Christmastide. Our readings for Friday night are Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-20 and can be found here. Our readings for Sunday are Isaiah 63:7-9, Hebrews 2:10-18, and Matthew 2:13-23 and can be found here.

Our Gospel readings for Christmas Eve and the first Sunday in Christmas (that's right--Christmas is more than a day, it's a whole season! Ever heard of the 12 days of Christmas? December 25 to January 6=Christmastide...this celebration is by no means over) show us two very different sides of Jesus' birth: the way it is announced, and the way it is responded to and received. Both of these sides are peculiar...the only ones who get Jesus' birth announcement are some shepherds in a field and a few scholars who happened to be paying attention to the night sky. The only ones who recognize what is going on enough to respond are those shepherds and magi, as well as chronically insecure King Herod--and they react in vastly different ways.

A great observation was made in the title song to the musical "Jesus Christ, Superstar": If you'd come today you would have reached a whole nation, Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication. Maybe this is a silly thing to consider when reading a story as significant as the Christmas story, but it makes me wonder...
If Jesus were born today, in this age of mass communication even beyond what "Jesus Christ, Superstar" could have imagined, how would God have shared the good news? Would God have sent out one of the nice photo birth announcements like the one at right to everyone God knew...meaning, I guess, to everyone? Would God have posted pictures on Facebook, or notified all God's followers on Twitter using 140 characters or less? With new technologies available, would God have changed the way God announced this birth so that more people could find out quickly?

Part of me hopes not. Because, though it seems incredibly inefficient, part of what I love about the announcement of Jesus' birth is how intimate it God is giving this gift to the whole world, but it is being unwrapped (or seen wrapped in its swaddling clothes, more accurately) by just a few witnesses whose testimony will become part of how God shares the good news of love and grace. After all, God could have unleashed those angels on all of Bethelehem...all of Israel, for that matter...but for some reason, God didn't: God chose a quiet way, a particular way, and God chose to involve other humans in the announcement. I think there must be something to that...enough to ponder for many future Christmases.

Then, I look at the contrasting reactions to the birth of the Christchild. On one hand we have the shepherds--the lowliest of society--trying to outrace each other to see who can get to the baby first. On the other hand we have a king--the most powerful of society--terrified by this new bundle of alleged joy, a bundle he fears could grow up to threaten his security and power. This baby is such a threat that Herod kills who knows how many innocents just to protect himself. I wonder how we would respond if we got news that this promised king was born among us this day...would we trip over each other trying to get to him with haste...or scurry to insulate ourselves from anything that might uproot our worlds...or, worse yet, would we fail to respond at all?

The questions of the first Christmas remain potent more than 2000 years later: the technologies have changed, but our God hasn't...and nor, it certainly seen, has human nature. Jesus comes again among us...silently...without much flash or dazzle...often unrecognized. Will we respond with joy or with fear? And will we be aware enough to respond at all?

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