I always prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day! There is a mystery, marvel and magic about that most wondrous night that, ever since I was a child, has always captivated me. A darkened St Cuthbert's on Christmas Eve - the dancing, swaying tongues of flame from many nightlights and candles - always holds me spellbound and brings out the child in me. There was mystery, marvel and magic that first Christmas Eve when God wove a wondrous spell over the whole world. The new-born child in the manger was, literally, God's spell - 'Godspell' being the old English word for 'Gospel'.
The first Christmas Eve was a night of meetings - a momentous meeting of two worlds. On that night a meeting of heaven and earth, between God and humanity, took place such as never before or since. From the most important man in the world, Caesar Augustus, came a decree which touched the lives of two unimportant people in a remote backwater, Joseph and Mary. Rome, capital of the political world, was linked with humble Bethlehem. In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields. To a religion which regarded laws of hygiene as sacrosanct, these field-dwellers were deemed to be beyond the pale. But the vastness of heaven entered their scrubby little field and the glory of God shone in their sight.
When the shepherds had caught their breath again after the initial terror of it all, they were directed to Bethlehem. There in the memory of David, the shepherd who became king, they found the King who became Shepherd. He who would describe his role as a shepherd in search of lost sheep, was introduced onto the world stage by shepherds.
Such is the flavour of Luke's story. When God stepped into the story of humanity, the people who were caught up in the event were the poor and the religious despised, the little people of the world - those who were empty enough to receive, silent enough to listen and open enough to wonder. But there was no room for them at the inn which was too full, too noisy and too closed to the wonder of the heavens.
Only those who know the littleness of their own fields can be open to the wonder of greater realities. Mary, the littlest of all, treasured these mysterious and marvellous things and pondered them in her heart. She knew that the full wonder could not be absorbed all at once.
The first Christmas Eve was a night of meetings, when the vastness of heaven met the confined fields of earth, when the richness of heaven invaded the poverty of cave and manger, when the dazzling choirs of heaven filled the silence of night. It was the night that ushered in the day of glorifying and praising God - and each Christmas we have been glorifying and praising God ever since.
Christmas is a time of meeting - the meeting of family and friends, for instance, the meeting of child and adult, the meeting of friend and stranger, even the meeting of enemies, as happened on the battlefield in the Christmas of 1914. I hope and pray that, this Christmas, there will take place in our lives a momentous meeting of two worlds. May we, like the shepherds, find the scrubby little field of our lives invaded by the vastness of heaven. May it be for us, as it was for the shepherds, a life-transforming experience - an experience that propels us along the little road to Bethlehem, there to worship and adore at the manger-throne.
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