December 24, 2017 (5PM Service) — Rev. Paula Norbert
Over 800 years ago in a small town in Italy, a man named Francis wanted to re-create the experience of the first Christmas. He felt that people at his time had lost the true spirit of the birth of Christ, and so he gathered with a small group of friends and townspeople from Greccio and together, they brought together the cows and donkeys and horses in a small cave in the side of a hill near the town. They read together the story of Jesus’s birth with candles in hand, much as we do again tonight and people who were there spoke about the profound experience they felt together in sharing the sights and sounds of that holy night. That was the beginning of the Nativity or Manger scenes that many of us have in our homes and that we see here tonight in this Church.
We gather here this evening to listen once again to these stories that have been passed down to us of the birth of that infant Jesus in a small and simple manger in the town of Bethlehem. We gather to be inspired and to make room in our hearts and in our lives for the message of hope and peace and joy and love that is the true meaning of Christ among us. Tonight, we pause to be together and remember that holy night, to give thanks for this most unlikely story of our God choosing to come among us in the most humble of circumstances and we come to share the joy that we feel at his birth. For this was the start of a new era, as we imagine the years he spent growing up in modest surroundings to emerge as an adult to gather followers and travel about to teach his listeners and all of us what God most wants for our world, to live in a community of love and respect and peace. And, if we take this story seriously, if we really make room for this message, we should feel compelled to go out and be about this important work of changing the world, of doing our part to make God’s vision come alive wherever people do not live as God would want it to be. That is the Kingdom that Jesus spoke so often about…and we are called to help be about that work, of reaching out to the poor, the sick, the suffering and those too long forgotten.
I would like to share a brief reading by Leslie Leyland Fields entitled “Let the Stable Still Astonish.” Let the stable still astonish: Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes, Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen; Crumbling, crooked walls; No bed to carry that pain, and then, the child, Rag-wrapped, laid to cry In a trough. Who would have chosen this? Who would have said: “Yes, Let the God of all the heavens and earth Be born here, in this place?” Who but the same God Who stands in the darker rooms of our hearts and says, “Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth be born here- in this place.” Amen.