Sunday, December 25, 2016

What Child Is This?

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.  God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.  The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.  When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.  This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.  Hebrews 1:1-4(NLT)
So the Word became human and made his home among us.  He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.  John 1:14(NLT)
Several years ago I got a fresh reminder of the fact that, despite the crush of Christmas shopping, crowds, hurry-up of extra meetings and worship services, it was the Word, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God who became flesh in that manger.  It was not an idea or doctrine, or a program that was born – it was God who became “with us”, incarnate; eternity entering time.  The Messiah was born, and nothing could ever be the same once the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
My reminder came in two segments. 
First, I happened to come across my friend Anne’s description of a worship service at her church; she is the organist/music director.  It’s a fairly large sanctuary, and the organ is located in the balcony.  She described a crisis:
“Crises in a church service happen in a split second, and you never see them coming.  I pick out offertories based on the service, knowing the time it takes the ushers to pass the plates is longer for Service 2 than Service 3.  Also, as a general rule, I play a shorter version for the early service because there are fewer people in attendance.  Timing wouldn’t matter so much if the ushers would wait until I finish a piece and begin the congregational hymn. However, they tend to start up the aisle when they’ve finished their job without waiting for me.  Over the years I learned it was better if I looked over my shoulder and began winding up when the usher on the right side of the church reached the last pew.
At the early service today I had it about right.  The only usher I could see was about to walk behind the last pew to be in position to go forward in the center aisle, and my music would end at just the right time.  John [Anne’s husband] was there in the choir loft, and all of a sudden he jumped up and began to flap his arms.  Sometimes he tells me when the men have finished, but this flapping denoted something much more urgent.  ‘They are not ready,’ he hissed.
I really don’t think people listen to filler music, but if anyone happened to be paying attention today they would have heard the music reaching a conclusion.  Then there was a slight pause, a fumble with a few notes and a resuming of the original piece somewhere in the middle.  Since I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know how much longer to play.  John told me later that someone sitting on the middle aisle was writing a check, and the usher stood there waiting for it. 
I’d like to tell the congregation once a year that I can’t see the middle aisle, so if anyone is going to mess up the timing of the offertory, please do it on the right side.[1]
Anne wasn’t ready for this because didn’t see it coming.  And how could she?  From the balcony, facing the wrong way, her world is lopsided, and she can’t see the middle.  How frustrating – whoever designed organs facing the wrong way, anyway?  
The ushers weren’t ready because of the check-writer who wasn’t ready. 
We’ll come back to this in a moment.
My second reminder came the next evening. 
We went to the middle and high school combined chorus concert at my granddaughter’s school.  I saw and heard Christmas – the part where He came in a lowly place, an unexpected place – a very noisy place.  We got there early to get a good seat; and (wonder of wonders) we succeeded – right down front where we could see the dimples on my beautiful granddaughter as she sang a solo part, 
and my grandson in that red bowtie...priceless!

People were in a festive mood, and the kids sang the obligatory numbers that choirs have been singing for centuries. 
They also sang “The Twelve Days AFTER Christmas” (five gold rings that turned your fingers green, along with three French hens that were turned into chicken soup to cure a cold….well, it was a hoot!). 
But that wasn’t Christmas – not the word become flesh
The stage was decorated, the kids wore elf hats and antlers; but that wasn’t Christmas, either!
What made it Christmas for me was the rowdy crowd! 
Through all fifteen songs the parents and friends of these kids kept up chatter, trips to the bathroom complete with swinging, slamming doors.  They talked, laughed and made it impossible to hear the singing.
One group behind us must’ve had bladder problems; I counted eight trips to the facility in the hour and fifteen minute concert.  The young lady behind me was reclining on her seat, one leg draped over the arm of her chair, dangling in the aisle; she was texting, playing video games, bouncing her baby sister on her lap, talking to her boyfriend and singing (rather off key) from before the opening curtain, straight through to Silent Night.  It was like attending a combination football game and tractor-pull.  The crowd distracted everyone who was trying to sing, play, direct or hear.  Whew…talk about a “rowdy-crowdy”!
Back to our valiant organist in the balcony:  Anne was blind-sided by events she couldn’t see in a lop-sided world; she was blinded from the main event – she couldn’t see.  Our “concert rowdy-crowdy” was unknowing of the treasure those 7-9th grade kids had practiced weeks to bring them. 
Two events – one Blind and one unknowing!
So, what’s the connection with the word became flesh?
…God came to the rowdy and blind…and he did it on purpose!
Humanity without God is blind and unknowing.  Most of our manger scenes are quiet, very pastoral and serene.  But has farm life ever really been quiet?  With all due respect to Away in a Manger – when cattle are lowing they are loud.  They bellow because they’re ready for something to happen…very ready!  Goats, sheep and pigs add to the noise too. 
God chose to come to the middle of a rowdy mess, like an interrupted offering, a distracted choir.  That’s grace…we didn’t deserve it, but he came anyway.

God chose to die for us – it tells us the truth – we’re that messy!
He was full of grace and truth…we’re that messy, and he loves us anyway. 
He took our rowdy mess to the cross; that is the glory we celebrate this morning. 
He lived with us, died for us and rose that his grace would carry us all the way to where he is now.
He died for us blind, lopsided and rowdy all…
So what kind of child is this in the manger?  He’s the one who came to us and loved us, blind, lopsided, rowdy, warts and all!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen


[1] Anne Maclin Mehrling

[i] Title image:  Russell Brownworth

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