Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve, 11 pm

Last year’s Christmas Eve afternoon was pretty typical for my buddy Jeff. He was putting the last touches on a trio of services— late afternoon, early evening, late evening—and getting everything in order for the normal Christmas Eve crowd, usually in the neighbourhood of 2,000 worshippers.

He was busy doing whatever ministers do in churches like that, on Christmas Eve, when the power failed. In the fading light of the afternoon it soon became obvious that this was a large outage—it seemed like much of his part of the city was suddenly in the dark. Luckily the phone still worked—good old land line—so he called the power company, wondering when to expect power on that night of nights.

“Yes, we know the power is out,” came the answer. “It was a planned outage—it will last several hours.” It turns out the power company intentionally chose Christmas Eve believing that no one would be affected. After all, businesses close on Christmas Eve. I don’t exactly remember how Jeff convinced them to put the power back on—having the mayor as a member of the congregation may have helped—so the power was restored.

I think it’s a good story for a couple of reasons. First, it gives you a glimpse of the sort of things ministers have nightmares about—that and forgetting my shoes. Second, it gives you a sense of how the world has changed. It seems that no one at the power company thought about Christmas Eve services, at the very big church, literally across the street from City Hall.

And I’m going to argue that that’s a good thing. Back when everyone was Christian, and knew that Christmas Eve was a big deal at the church, many of the words we shared and songs we sang lost their power. When everyone knows a story, it can tend to lose its power. When angels speak to maidens and when the Holy Spirit overshadows them and when Mary sings to magnify the Lord—these become familiar to us and can lose the power to provoke or compel.

But in the new world we are entering, where the church is at the edge rather than the centre, the words and stories become less known or even unknown, and regain their power when shared for the first time. Case in point, the Magnificat:

The Lord has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Our work is to listen with new ears, listen as the world might listen, hearing these words for the first time. This is more that hope expressed by an expectant mum—she is a young revolutionary, plotting with God to change everything. God chose Mary to speak these words, to launch action that would change everything. And now that these words are no longer domesticated, no longer captive to the old order, they can speak once more.

May we hear with new ears, and magnify the Lord once more. Amen.


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