As we have brought forth the gifts that shaped the Nativity scene tonight, I invite you to think of where you would place yourself in this scenario. For you too are a gift tonight – you bring the gift of yourself. Some gifts are obvious, but most come out of adversity, or at least a lot of effort.
We sing traditional songs tonight, songs of hope for a weary world, and of a peaceful sleeping child, but we do well to remember that the world Jesus was born into, like ours today, was anything but peaceful. It took courage on the part of everyone involved to be there.
Look where Jesus is born. OK, we don’t really know what it looked like, but what we don’t hear is that Joseph, going to his home town to be registered for taxes, stays with one of his favourite uncles and aunts. Bethlehem must have been full of relatives. So why is Jesus delivered in a manger? Joseph has brought shame to his family by marrying this woman, pregnant, but apparently not with his child. The rumour mill was every bit as effective in ancient Palestine as it is today with Twitter and Facebook etc. They would not have been welcomed.
Three years ago, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I listened to a young Palestinian man say to us, “If Joseph was willing to break unjust rules, we need to have the courage to do the same.” That really got my attention. I had never considered that not only was Joseph being compassionate at the news of Mary’s pregnancy, but he was breaking the law in not reporting her.
There are so many unjust rules that call for restoration, for justice, for healing. What rules are we willing to challenge or break for the higher good? What sacrifices are we willing to make, what securities and falsehoods are we willing to let go of to be a part of God’s healing for the world?
Sometimes, what is unjust is what’s going on in our own minds and hearts – the prejudices we readily adopt without question.
In this month’s United Church Observer magazine, there is a powerful article by our national Moderator, Rev. Jordan Cantwell. It is a beautiful story of transformation, about someone daring to be the change they want to see in the world.
Jordan writes about visiting Fisher River Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, talking with the community about respect for different spiritual traditions. There she met Sheldon Cote. Jordan writes:
He said that for years he had been holding a lot of anger and resentment toward the church because of its history in his community and its role in the residential school system. He blamed the church and church people for many of the hurts and divisions on the reserve. Recognizing that his own feelings of anger and bitterness were contributing to the disunity around him, he decided to do something about it. His solutions? He started going to church.
“I needed to get to know church people as people,” he explained. It’s so easy to hate people you don’t really know. All you have is your stereotypes and resentments. I decided it was time to get to know the Christians in my community, so that I would stop hating them.” He’s now a regular at the UC in Fisher River, and on the property committee.
Sheldon’s story is one of courage, and it is one of inspiration. I recently read this statement, and as I celebrate Christmas and prepare to face the New Year, I will try to live it out. It says:
The world is changed by my example, not by my opinion
I end with these words from a United Church colleague, Rev. Lori Megley-Best. As we prepare for the coming of the Christ into our hearts and into the world, may your dreams be not of sugar plum fairies, but of visions that tell the story of God’s intentions for us and for all the world. And may we all receive the strength and will and courage to tell and live out those dreams. Amen.