Christmas Eve - 24th November 2021
Lord, bow the heavens and come: The psalmist’s cry utters the deepest longing of mankind.(1)
– the opening lines of the hymn we will sing at Vespers this evening.
If we turn to psalm 144 where these words are found we hear more of this cry:
Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down;
touch the mountains so that they smoke.
Make the lightning flash and scatter them;
send out your arrows and rout them.
Stretch out your hand from on high;
set me free and rescue me from the mighty waters,
from the hand of aliens,
whose mouths speak lies,
and whose right hands are false.
As we pray this psalm every Friday we join our cries with those of people down the ages who long to live in peace, who desire freedom from oppression and enough food to eat. It seems that in every generation there are leaders who speak lies, who deal falsely and pursue only their own good. If only the Lord would come and destroy them and set us free!
I have found myself wondering how it would be if God did come down in power and destroy all those who do evil, if he wiped the slate clean. But if the hearts of the rest of us are not transformed then yet again there would arise oppressors and evil doers from amongst us. Each one of us has the potential for evil as well as good. The fight is not just against the evil doers ‘out there’. The story of Noah speaks of a world wiped clean and yet within a short time once more it all went horribly wrong. Something else is needed.
We believe that the birth of the child Jesus that we celebrate at this time is that ‘something else’ – but how is this so? The psalmists speak in violent and powerful language of the Lord’s actions yet the coming we celebrate at Christmas is quiet and hidden. Jesus grew up to be an eloquent teacher of God’s wisdom but he was convicted as a criminal and died a cruel death. He called us to love our enemies, the ‘aliens’ who oppress us, the leaders who deal falsely, and he lived out that love to the end as he forgave those who crucified him. He did not lead the violent uprising that many expected of the promised Messiah.
The story of Jesus of course does not end with his death. His followers speak of encountering him risen from the dead, living a new life beyond the grave. They were empowered by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon them. It enabled them to live out Jesus’ message in the creation of communities in which all were loved and accepted, whatever their station in life. Their message gradually changed the world and we owe so many of our modern ideas of human rights and the equality of all to this message.
But our faith is not just about the words of Jesus’ teaching, it is about Jesus’ call into a loving relationship with God the Father through him. In being born as a human being God says “here I am”, no longer remote but incarnate amongst us. Through the incarnate Christ God opened up the way for us to abide in God’s heart and for God to abide in our own hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. A mutual indwelling of God and humanity. We can only live out the teaching of Jesus as we open to that Spirit which transforms our hearts and empowers us to overcome the evil within.
I believe that the only way the world will be changed is as individual hearts are turned from evil to good through the power of Jesus death and resurrection. As we allow God to do this work of love in our own hearts we become channels through which God’s love can enter the world and flow out and touch the hearts of others. As a community, working to be open and loving in our relationships, we incarnate that love in a way that can be felt by others. We become people who here and now live out the life of eternity, the life of the new heaven and the new earth. Bit by bit the tide of evil is turned and love prevails.
Picking up the words of the final verse of our hymn may each one of us this Christmas become a place where:
Time touches tremblingly the eternal now
to lose itself within God’s timeless act. Maranatha.
(1) The words and music for this hymn were composed in this community at a time when inclusive language was not the norm. We have retained the original language for the sake of the integrity of the composition.
Mother Anne - 24th November 2021