Glimpses of God-With-Us

by Rev. Ellie Barrington - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2011 A reflection on Matthew 1:18-25 Listen to the audio recording

Earlier in our Celebration, we heard and played out Luke’s version of baby Jesus’ coming, that most familiar story of a gentle birth in a Bethlehem stable, located by a shining star and attended by reverent shepherds. So now we turn the pages of our Bible to the other, quite different birth parable, by the Jewish storyteller of Matthew. This Gospel overture tells of Jesus’ coming, announced by an angel to Joseph – the oft-neglected earthly dad. Hear now that angel’s voice, echoing the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, into sleeping Joseph’s ear: The ancient promise of one born to assure us that ‘God with us!’

Reading of Matthew 1:18-25 KJV

Emanu-el – God with us – a very ancient promise, even to people at the time of Jesus’ birth. Emanu-el – God with us – a timeless promise we recall in a timely way each December – when Jesus’ birth story once again assures us of God’s presence – eternally newborn among us.

Matthew’s birth story has a suspenseful quality to it, with King Herod off in the wings, threatening the life of the newborn hope. The very birth of Emanu-el and then the child’s safety, depends on one man’s ability to listen to his dreams – and follow them. Jesus is saved, and saved again, by Joseph setting aside social convention and making extraordinary decisions. Joseph is a see-er: One who sees the light in dark times, who hears holy whispers. One who can step outside of the ordinary to perceive God’s presence and purpose in the events of his own life journey.

Shall we all be Josephs this Christmas Eve? (I think we’ve paid enough attention to Mary this season!)

Perhaps, some time we can remember, we too like Joseph, have been caught by social convention or caught up in a conflict? Who hasn’t had to make a decision that seemed beyond your wisdom? Haven’t we all yearned for holy guidance, for God with us, to resolve our personal trials and the troubles of these difficult times? But… have we been able to hear the angel whispering in our ear, like Joseph did? Have we been able to open our eyes beyond the ordinary and follow a dream or a guiding star?

Well, maybe at Christmastime? Perhaps tonight is the night for some to enter the Christmas story anew and perceive a Godly presence? Are you among those yet to know, that the Christmas promise is for you, too? True, for you too. Emanu-el. God is with – you.

The Christmas story is meant to overcome the blocks of our everyday consciousness that hide God. This narrative has the artful capacity to set our human hearts beating together – to expand our capacity to perceive awe and wonder, elevating us to where we can see God streaming throughout all of Creation.

God is born among us… wherever beauty flourishes and creativity bursts forth. Whenever people reach out to connect in loving kindness. God is in sacred music and sacred stories that awaken and illuminate the Love of Christ in us. And God keeps happening to us in new ways…as our Christ eyes are opened, newborn.

Last week, my husband Bob told me a story from his Christmas past that I’d never heard before. At that time, Bob was a rather sad, sweet looking blond eight-year-old – but hardly angelic I’m told. He and his brother and sister and their mom lived with their Grandad in those years. Little Bobby was often lonely for his father, who visited occasionally on Sundays. But this was Christmas Eve day and Dad was coming – and with him would come lots of big presents.

So that afternoon, Bobby was very happy, full of anticipation of his dad’s arrival… He was walking towards his favourite spot – the chicken coop way out behind the house where his brother kept pigeons – and then sunset happened to him. A big, majestic, multicoloured sky full of reddened clouds. He tells how “It came upon me completely unawares. It’s not that I saw the sky, but that the sky spoke to me. It was my moment in the universe – transporting and wonderful. I was grasped by the experience…and I felt in my little boy way – I knew – that God was with me.”

Perhaps you have had a mystical moment or two at Christmastime? Maybe, seeing through the eyes of a child? A warm shiver of assurance that you belong to the universe? A sudden knowing that God is with you, too?

Christmastime is a thin place – the dark time of the year that we dare to fill with music and hope and candlelight. Christmas can overcome the blocks in our everyday consciousness that hide God’s presence from us, if we allow ourselves to be transported to the realm of miracles.

It is Christmastime, so the veil, at any moment, might be lifted, to reveal the really real world – where God reigns in all Creation. God – glimpsed when we awaken to beauty and succumb to awe. God – among us, as fresh as newborn, when our dreams reveal our purpose, inviting us to reroute our lives past conflict and convention, following our God-given star.

May your Christmastime bring you a glimpse of your Truth. May we all re-awaken like children on Christmas morning, to the uber-truth of the Christmas story: God is here – guiding us still.

So, may every man Joseph among us – and every woman – heed your dream of peace, and welcome Emanu-el!

God is with us. Merry Christmas!


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