It was Christmas Eve. There was a gentle December snow falling out side. Not enough to stop traffic … just enough to make things pretty … not too cold. It was a typical Christmas night. The church was decorated with gold and white hangings and dozens of candles. The altar was embraced by greenery and poinsettias. The clergy wore gowns with silver and gold threads woven into them. The congregation joined together in some classic Christmas hymns and a large choir performed several beautiful anthems. The lessons were read, and then I climbed up into a huge pulpit to deliver my first Christmas sermon … My legs shook, my knees knocked — I took a deep breath, and began.
That was the dream…the reality was somewhat different.
To begin with it wasn’t even December, it was August 31, 1988. I was on staff at the Niagara Youth Conference and we had chosen that day to be a celebration of Winter. When night came, we had a Christmas Eve service, followed by a New Year’s Eve party.
It was night time, but there was no snow … it was about 18 degrees. There was a gathering but not in some large church … it was in a camp dining hall. And it was decorated — with lasers, spotlights, glitter balls and a few pyrotechnic flash pots. There was a lot of music …music pumped out on guitars, synthesizers and drums … and we all sang and a few even danced. And I was the one chosen to preach the sermon. There was no high and exalted pulpit, just the plain wooden dining hall floor. And no gowns of silver and gold … just my best friend presiding in a black tuxedo with a tie that flashed on and off … and me in a black tuxedo with a red tie and bright red high cut running shoes.
Still, my legs shook, my knees knocked — I took a deep breath, and began.
It was a beautiful service — different from what I had dreamt my first Christmas sermon would be like, but still very beautiful and very special.
Life is like that. It has a way of taking our plans (even our dreams) and tossing them off to the side.
My first Christmas sermon didn’t come the way I dreamt it would be. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. And while the settings for the 31 Christmas sermons that followed have never lived up to that dream, I wouldn’t change any of those either.
Our dreams rarely do come true as we expected.
The journey though Advent and Christmas is about another dream, the dream of a whole nation of people. They dreamt that someday a warrior would come who would help them out of their suffering. This mighty warrior had been predicted for centuries, and they were anxiously awaiting the arrival of this new king.
Then the news came …. he had arrived.
But instead of a mighty warrior, they found a tiny baby. The most helpless creature in all of creation. He couldn’t stand or walk, couldn’t talk or feed himself, and had no bowel control … he was a baby.
But they didn’t let this surprise fill their lives with disappointment. They didn’t say “he should have been this” or “God should have done that” or “why did we get stuck with this?”…
Mary and Joseph loved and cradled him (just as any new parents would). We hear how the shepherds and magi came (to honour and worship the One God had sent, not to complain that this wasn’t what they had asked for).
And in the life that followed, Jesus turned the world upside down. He had us look at ourselves and our world through his eyes, and ask if we were really living and thinking and being the way God wanted us to be. He challenged society at every turn. He chose the poor, the simple, the sinners, as his colleagues (rather than the wealthy established members of society). And in doing so — showed us that our God is a God for everyone.
Jesus helped us to find God in all things, and in every person, and in doing so transformed our hearts and our world. Turning it upside down.
Turn the world upside down.
That is what we are called to do — turn the world upside down.
The baby whose birth we celebrate wasn’t what we wanted … but he was everything we needed.
And so in addition to celebrating the birth of Jesus, let us also celebrate the surprises in life — and at this time of year there are many. Because surprises do leave a mark on the world; the unexpected can lead to good, even when it upsets our original plan …
The Reverend Rob Towler is the editor of the Niagara Anglican.