The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
24 December 2016
O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
Last week I talked about the consistency of God. I talked about how God, while neither static nor unaffected, remains steadfast in purpose, moving always in the direction of Love. To achieve this end God, consistently and always, promises to be with us. God promises Emmanuel again and again and comes among us in many and diverse ways. Over and over people have experienced Emmanuel in the course of our lives in both large and small ways. But God, in and through the voices of the prophets we have heard throughout Advent, also has made the specific promise of Emmanuel, to come into the world in a decisive way at a decisive moment, to lead God’s people and alter the course of the world.
Tonight is the night when we celebrate Emmanuel’s intervention into time and space. We know that tonight God has acted to strengthen and expand God’s relationship with Creation. God has acted to reconcile humanity and divinity. God has acted to show us the strength of divine love and God’s faith in and for us. Tonight God shines light into a broken and troubled world and asks us to follow, follow that light towards the realisation of God kingdom, the realisation of the sovereignty of love.
In Advent the prophets call us to be on the look out for this redeemer, this messiah, this anointed one. We have been looking for the promised one who will show us who we really are and who we might become. And yet, we humans, limited as we are, expected Emmanuel to come in a form that the powers of this world would easily recognise as power, in a form they would take seriously. We have been looking for a mighty act, a thunder clap, or the appearance of a strong man, or perhaps even of an army. The reality, however, is quite different. Emmanuel looks not like human power—one who uses money or strength or fear to achieve his ends—but rather is consistent with God’s nature, consistent with God’s identity as Love.
Tonight we stand in the darkness and uncertainty and fear of a particularly difficult Advent, an Advent filled with the doubts and uncertainty. We look all around for the coming of the Son of Man, for Emmanuel. We stand as the watchman looking to see “the signs of promise” and something small and from below tugs at our trouser legs, tugs at our hems, and we look down and see that the one whom God has sent, the one whom Isaiah foretold as “Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And the one with these great titles, this great promise, is a child, a newborn infant, swaddled by his mother to make him feel safe. Tonight the light of God shines not from some traditional seat of power perched high in a tower above us, but out of a manger, an impromptu bassinet. Tonight the light of God, the one who promises a new world and a new dawn, drives away the fears of a long dark night and is counted himself amongst the most vulnerable creatures in all the world. This is our Emmanuel, not a king who looks like a king, but a king who looks like a child, who is a child.
Only God, our consistent God, could conceive that the means of our reconciliation, our atonement, comes in the form of one so vulnerable, so fragile, so unlikely. God, our God, is always acting in surprising ways. God, our God, is always taking the unexpected path and showing us how good, how love can emerge from unexpected places and unexpected situations. God takes the seemingly unremarkable birth of a baby boy to a young Jewish woman on the far reaches of the Roman Empire and sets in motion a process that will change the world, sets in motion a process that will allow all the peoples of the world to enter into relationship with the God of Israel.
Tonight, out of the darkness, God calls out to the shepherds and to us to look down and see the child in the manger, Emmanuel, to see the “good news of a great joy which will come to all the people ... [for] to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
Yes, in and through this unlikely event, unfolding in an unexpected way, in the midst of strange and frightening times, God calls us out of the darkness and into the light of the manger, to move away from that place of fear and into a place of hope. God, in the voice of the angel tells us not to be afraid of this new thing, this unexpected event. God asks us to face the improbable messiah and all the power he brings without fear and, indeed, to look upon the new born baby, as one might upon one’s own, with a sense of joy and hope and love and awe. God asks us to see love at work and to move forward in hope and love, moving towards the manger, towards embracing the child, embracing the new reality, the reality that Love has truly broken into our world and is at work in the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, at work in the world, at work in us.
The incarnation of Emmanuel we celebrate tonight affirms the consistency of God, God's constant movement towards love. The incarnation of Emmanuel affirms God’s consistent upending of human expectations and human views of power. Emmanuel in the person of the child affirms the values of vulnerability, relationship, and interdependence.
This is the promise of Emmanuel, that in the midst of troubled times, as troubled today as they were in that corner of Roman Judea, God acts as God always acts, to reconcile all things in Love. God comes and meets us where we are, imperfect, in the midst of our lives, and becomes united with us. Emmanuel in the person of the baby in the manger shows us the possibility that in and through our creaturely existence we are able to become bearers of divine love into the world. Emmanuel shows us that the image and likeness of God does lie within us, ready and able to respond and act with a profound “yes” to God’s call to ministry in the world.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
“O Virgo”, 23 December 2016
© 2016 Andrew Charles Blume