A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond
By The Rev. Lee Shaw
December 24, 2003
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, West Valley City, UT
I am sure that most if not all of you have heard something about what the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion have gone through during this past year. So we gather on this most holy of nights at the end of a year that has been one of the most tumultuous in the history of our church. It has been a year of momentous change. Change that has left some rejoicing, left others grieving, left some confused, and then some, well just left. Too many times we seemed to have been defined more by our differences than by our tradition, more by our biases than by our faith.
As I thought on this past year I had an image of us, all of us, not unlike the shepherds in our Gospel reading. We sit on our separate hillsides feeling or fearing that something is going to happen. We conveniently divide into camps tending our flocks of special interests, guarding our turf of absolutes. We keep watch by night over our theologies and ideologies: progressive, liberal, conservative, evangelical, charismatic, renewal, neo-orthodox, mainstream, broad church, et al. Diligently we guard our domains of self-identification: Episcopal, anglo-catholic, orthodox-anglican, protestant, agnostic, gay, straight, feminist, traditionalist, male, female, clergy, .... well you know the labels as well as I do.
Yet we are drawn off our hillsides to see this sight we have heard about. We find a small family of simple station in a crude stable. We see the young mother resting against the wall, her hair matted from the sweat of a late night labor, and her newborn child wrapped in ragged cloths asleep in a feeding bin. Her husband, eyes weary from worry, body stooped by fatigue, welcomes us in to share this crowded space.
What draws us to this simple scene to kneel, to gaze, to wonder? What draws us in silent awe to share this time, this warm intimate space with the young family?
Are we here because of our correct theology? Our orthodoxy? Our very proper Prayer Book worship? Our inclusive liturgies? Are we here because we are the right nationality, or race, or sex, or religion, or age, or sexuality? Are we here because of our correct beliefs and views of religion and of God?
No. We are here because God bids us come. Come and see. Come and see who I have given to you this night.
God says to us this night: I have given you the One anointed from before time as my chosen One, to live with you, to know you and to love you. I have given you the One who will sing with you, tell you stories, laugh with you and cry with you. I have given you the One who will teach you, challenge you, heal you and forgive you. I have given you the One whom you will believe and follow; mock and arrest; ridicule and crucify. I have given you my very Son. I have given you the One named Emmanuel -- God with you. And I have given Him to you so that He may draw you to me as He rises from the tomb of death to life with me.
So, we come this night because God calls us to come. Come and see. Come and see this Child called God with us.
God did not call us to this crude stable because of our theological correctness or for the inherent rightness of who we think we are. God did not call us because of who we are, but because of who God is. God calls us in love to share in the joy of Jesus come into the world.
God invites us to come down off our hillside to see Love incarnate. And God has also invited the one from the hill opposite mine, the one different from me, the one I watch with wary eye, to share this scene with me. And you, you too are invited with all the others from all the hillsides, from tending our flocks of special interests and guarding our turf of absolutes. We are all invited.
And so I find myself kneeling on clean, fragrant straw, touching shoulders with one so completely different from me. Someone whose theology I do not accept, whose lifestyle I do not understand, whose politics I just don't get, and whose heart I do not know. We kneel. We touch. We gaze in awe at this Child come into our world.
And I pray for this one kneeling by me -- touching my shoulder -- as I pray for me. I pray that our differences will not keep us from seeing each other as beloved of God. I pray that we will be able to forgive one another for the injustices real and imagined, great and small, we have done or thought against the other. I pray that as we kneel this silent night in the holy light of God, that we may be one in the love of the God, the God who has given us Jesus to enfold our differences in His love, His forgiveness and His grace.
Yes, this is my prayer tonight.
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