If you still do Christmas shopping the old-fashioned way – go to the mall rather than go on-line -- then you will know what an author means when she talks about the contradictory sounds of Christmas, the
strange clash of sounds -- Christmas carols piped into stores, sound systems carrying heavenly choruses, sacred songs heard outside the sanctuary.
You're in a mall, say, crowded with shoppers, and you see one person, loaded down with packages, bump into another person, who is also loaded down with packages, and you hear one of them snarl, "Merry Christmas," and the other one snarl back, "Yeah, Merry Christmas to you too!" and then they go their angry ways and in the background a high school choral group sings, "Joy to the World!" Or you're looking for a T-shirt for your weird nephew and you find yourself in a weird store and wafting over stacks of boxer shorts and T-shirts with words unfit for printing you hear "Round yon Virgin Mother and Child, Holy Infant so tender and mild." Holy carols filling department stores as unholy frenzy drives the shoppers. Sacred music in the check-out line along with weary and short-tempered parents. And out into the parking lot the music floats and you hear the honking of a car horn and see some red-faced driver shaking his fist at another driver who nearly backed into him as "Sleep in heavenly peace" hangs in the air. There is such an odd, unlikely clash of sounds at Christmas, holy carols drifting down from holes in the ceiling as shoppers on escalators grimly ascend and descend.
You can blame the merchants if you want, the author says, but the truth is that it was the angels who started it all -- started singing sacred songs outside the sanctuary. At least that's what Luke's account of the birth of Jesus tells us. According to Luke it was a work day, a work night rather, when the angels appeared to the shepherds. "Shepherds on the night shift," the author writes, "trying desperately to
keep their eyes open. Telling bawdy stories around the fire, laughing away their fears… It was not a holiday. It was a work day. A most ordinary time and place. No one was expecting a sacred song. That's when it started. One voice, then a sky-full. `Glory to God in the highest!' they sang to the shepherds sitting in the mud. `And peace to God's people on earth.' …A Savior born on a work night…"
So, really, it was God who started it all -- this odd clash of sounds, this coming to earth not in a sanctuary but in a stable, an alley. "God revels," the author comments, "in putting together things that have never been put together before." A Savior and a stable, angels and shepherds, an unknown young peasant girl and the birth of a King. And God doesn't wait for silence, the author goes on to say, or wait for all to be prepared or for things to be calm and bright, but in the midst of the commotion of a government census, in the midst of shepherds in the mud, in the confusion of a young couple wondering what was happening to them, he comes to birth.
But why, the author asks, why this strange clash of sounds, these sacred songs outside the sanctuary, this strange, unexpected way of coming to us? Perhaps to get our attention, she answers. Perhaps it is God's way of getting us to pay attention in the midst of our ordinary days and the confusion and chaos of our lives -- pay attention to where he is found, where he comes unto us.
That is what is so good about the good news the angels announced: God is found, God comes unto us, where we are, in the midst of life as it really is, whenever or wherever we most need healing and hope. If God could be found in a stable, of all places, then there is no place or time where God cannot found, as another author has said.
In so many ways God is there in the midst of our ordinary days and in unholy places, there in friends and strangers alike speaking the word we most need to hear, there in all that happens wanting to grace us with the faith and strength we need, there in fearful things comforting us and telling us not to be afraid, there with healing and hope.
So let us pay attention no matter where we are, even when we’re in a weird store buying a present for a weird nephew, even where nothing much is calm and bright, even in the midst of the evening news, or where things actually are calm for a moment, where there is some blessed relief, some needed laughter.
Let us pay attention so that God can bring to birth within us a peace and a joy that will remain with us in all seasons.
God be with you,