Monday, 24 December 2018

The Unseen Guest is Always with Us.

I grew up in a three-room house: living room, kitchen, parent’s bedroom, children’s bedroom. Well, four if you count the sleep out Dad and mates built at the back of the house for the oldest child at the time. On Christmas Eve, the children went to bed by 11 pm, the two or three of us in one room depending on wider family sharing Christmas with us, all under age around ten. Dad reminded us every Christmas Eve that if we heard noise in the night we should stay in bed, because Santa would take our presents back if he caught us peeking.

Very early Christmas morning, we slipped into the living room after ensuring parents were awake, so we had permission to go to the tree. We opened our presents and filled our mouths with nuts and sweets as we ripped paper and viewed with awe and wonder. However, we never had the following experience which might have been a salutary lesson for us. I read of this family who having gone into the living room and to the tree just like we used to, became aware of a presence in the room. They turned and saw a large man with white hair and a beard sleeping on the couch, his huge belly going up and down with every snore.

They were, to use a biblical phrase, “sore afraid.” They were sure they knew who this visitor was. They did the only thing they could; they gathered all the toys and sweets and hid in their beds, cowering in the dark and cold, waiting for him to leave. Mid-morning, their parents came to see why they were not up. “Is he gone?” they asked. “Is who gone?” they responded. “Santa,” they whispered. The parents laughed so hard the house shook. Their visitor was one of the family’s older relatives, who had shown up around midnight, on foot and a bit tipsy, with nowhere to go. And their parents put him to bed in the only place they had, the living room couch in front of the Christmas tree.

So, I learnt from this story of Christmas that you never know who will turn up. Also at this time of year God calls us to be welcoming to all visitors. This was again bought
home to me when travelling overseas for work or even living overseas at Christmas-tide. I was on my own far from home, despite my mother sending one of her Christmas Cakes with me. When working in Darwin over the University summer break just before Christmas, I was approached by members of the Christchurch Cathedral congregation and asked what I was doing to celebrate on Christmas Day. They then with some pushing involved me in their worship as a Server/Censer and allocated me to a family for Christmas luncheon on Christmas Day. I valued their love and fellowship. I give thanks to those warm hearted people as I was able to share with a family on that day. No sermon or story ever taught me more about the true meaning of Christmas.

But let’s look to one of the scripture readings for the day. Luke’s account of the nativity opens like a grand, epic movie. It’s so wondrously regal that one can almost hear James Earl Jones’s narration. The emperor issues a command to the whole world, and the whole world hears and responds. The impressive name of the governor of Syria is invoked, and a certain man whose lineage includes David, king of Israel, rises and goes to his ancestral home to fulfil the wish of the emperor.

The woman to whom this man is engaged makes the journey with him, and when they arrive, she bears their child. Oh, it’s just so wonderful! So dramatic! A fairy-tale beginning. But then the action shifts, and all of a sudden, we’re brought to . . . a manger. A manger? How incongruous after all the talk of emperors and governors and kings and such. Then, just to add insult to injury, the scene moves to a field brimming with smelly sheep and smelly shepherds doing their work on the third shift. Couldn’t those angels have sung their “Gloria’s!” to a more august audience and in a more proper setting?

Luke writes the story of Jesus’ nativity with whiplash built in. The shift from emperors and angelic choirs to mangers and shepherds is abrupt to say the least. “Majestic” becomes “homely” very quickly. Jesus did not come to hang out with royalty issuing their decrees from the splendour of marble palaces. The austerity of the manger and the shepherd’s field wondrously shows how Jesus came to live among all God’s people: the meek and the lowly, the poor and the lame, the sinners and the saints. Us. So on all days, but especially on Christmas Day, all God’s people are called to welcome all, high and low and share our love with all.

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