We believe what Paul says: "the grace of God has appeared, saving
all…." Christ, our Savior, has appeared in human history therefore,
Paul tells us, we must live "temperately, justly and devoutly in
this age." This new way of living is made possible by the gift of
grace. He adds we are to live good lives, "as we await the blessed
hope the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus
Christ." This sentiment and wording are part of our prayer following
the Lord’s prayer at our Eucharist:
- " Deliver us Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously
grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may
be always free from sin and safe from all distress as we await
the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ."
For Paul, there is an unbreakable connection between what we
believe and how we act. Notice, as is always the case, God’s grace
is the source of our behavior. Grace has convinced us of God’s love,
delivered us from sin and transformed us. As a result, we can now
live a new life and are eager to do what is good, as we "await the
blessed hope." Paul reminds us that we await, "the appearance of the
glory of our great God...." The "glory of God" was a frequent image
used by the prophets. It sustaining them and stirred up hope in
God’s eventual coming to rescue the people from slavery.
Paul makes it quite clear that God’s grace is available for all
people. No one is excluded. So, there is an implicit mandate for us:
we are to exemplify the presence of God’s grace by how we live among
each other in our Christian community. We must also give witness to
God’s universal grace by living in new ways, sharing God’s love with
all people – no exceptions based on religion, race, creed etc.
Christ has saved us from sin and has offered us eternal life. But
all in our world has not yet been made new and so we "await the
blessed hope," the return of the Messiah. Even as we Christians
celebrate God’s birth among us, we must still wait for the future
appearance of "the glory of our great God." Meanwhile, as we wait
for God’s final triumph over sin and death, Paul describes the
effects grace has on us: we are "eager to do what is good." We put
into practice the good works grace enables within us.
In the gospel we notice the emergence of what Paul spoke of: "the
glory of our great God." What a strange way for God to manifest
"glory" to the world! We tend to sentimentalize the Nativity Story.
But the narrative certainly doesn’t show what we would usually call
"glory." First of all, Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary were
"betrothed," and that Mary was pregnant. Betrothal was a binding
commitment for a couple. It could be broken by death or divorce.
Normally a couple would not be alone together unless they were
already married. Mary is pregnant before the wedding. What would her
Galilean townspeople think about her? The couple would have been the
object of gossip. Things were not getting off to a good start.
Where’s the promised "glory" in the Messiah’s birth?
The overcrowded conditions meant Mary had to have her child in a
manger. Where’s the glory in that? When will God’s glory shine forth
as the prophets foretold? Maybe it’s already shining and maybe we
miss it at this stage of the story. God’s Son is poor, in the
poorest of conditions – lying in a trough for feeding animals.
If we are looking for God’s glory amid the world’s brilliance and
power we will not see it. The story invites us to look elsewhere for
God’s shining forth – among poor and peripheral people. We look
around our world, past the mall music, extravagant displays and
over-the-top gifts. Fake glory. We need to look more closely at
people and places that, on first glance, are inglorious. Where’s
Christ being born and coming to us today? Is today’s "holy family"
in a refugee camp waiting to be admitted by a host country? The true
God comes not on a throne in Rome, but as a helpless baby in a
stable, displaced and away from home. Where’s the glory in that?
We need help to see what Paul has called "the appearance of the
glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." But wait a moment,
the story continues. Once again we are among the least likely
people, shepherds – in the least likely place, "in the fields."
People in towns and cities considered shepherds the lowest class.
They were wanderers, rootless and not to be trusted as they passed
through with their flocks. Hide the valuables and guard the women
and children. If we are going to see the glory of God we will have
to put aside our criteria and sense of superiority. God shows up
among the least likely people and in the strangest places.
These shepherds aren’t singled out because they were praying for
a Messiah. Quite the contrary. Their profession kept them out with
their sheep, unable to observe the Sabbath rituals and prayers with
the community. We don’t even know if they could be counted among,
what we call, "the deserving poor." They were just shepherds doing
their jobs. At least, they seemed to be doing that well – "living in
the fields and keeping night watch over their flock." Although it
wasn’t for the shepherd’s singular worthiness, still God reveals
God’s self to them: "the glory of the Lord shone around them."
God isn’t being sparing and minimalistic here; but is pulling out
all the stops for these shepherds. No wonder they grow afraid. They
are getting a glimpse into the immensity and grandeur of God and
they know they don’t deserve this favor. Still, God’s beginning to
show, in new ways, God’s love and mercy towards all people –
starting with the outcast shepherds.
We have prayed all Advent: "Come Lord Jesus." The "blessed hope"
has arrived and can be found already in our midst. The story directs
us not to look for him in the grand and haughty, but among the
least, the broken and the needy. Like the shepherds we will have to
get up, put aside our presuppositions about worthiness, and come in
from whatever far away field we find ourselves.
There was nothing inherently distinctive about the infant the
shepherds saw lying in the manger. The shepherds will become the
first evangelists when they share the good news of what they had
seen and heard with others. What about us? Where shall we look for
God? Among the bright, shiny and well-put together? Possibly. But
certainly, at least that’s what the story tells us, we will find him
among the simple and least significant. If that is true, let us get
up and go look for him. When we find him we will praise God’s glory
and get to work telling others about what we have found.
system. As a
direct result of these numbers, more than 35,000 children die each
day due to hunger and malnutrition.
Staggering numbers aren’t they? Each one of these orphaned
children, made in the image of God, carry love within them and
deserve to be loved. Contemplating these lives makes my head reel
and my heart ache on this day of such great joy. I wish I could
adopt them all.
This Christmas Day, when we so thoroughly celebrate the birth of
one child, make the time to pray for the orphans of the world by
spiritually sending your love to them like an invisible thread.
Let’s wrap all children everywhere in our love for them. . .for a
child is born to us!!!
TO EVERYONE: MAY YOUR CHRISTMAS BE FULL OF LOVING
BLESSINGS AND MAY YOU BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS THROUGHOUT THE NEW
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC