A Priest's Christmas
The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-39,
The Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55
The story I'm going to tell you is true, although not all of happened on the same Christmas Day.
There was a priest who was rostered for Christmas morning service. He was tired. It had been a hard year. He needed a holiday. In fact, he needed about three holidays, because he felt like he had nothing left to say, or give.
He looked at the readings for Christmas one more time and felt no enthusiasm.
He knew the story of the three kings and the star, could tell us about following our own star in life, to find God's great gift for us.
He knew The Magnificat, Mary's song of praise, is a song of revolution which sings of what God is going to do in the world. How it speaks of a New World Order, called the Kingdom of God. And how with the conceiving of Mary's little child in her body the Kingdom has begun.
He knew Mary was instrumental in the plan of God. She was just a peasant woman from a small country village, an ordinary person. And yet to her, the scripture tells us, was given the opportunity to serve... And to be so central to God's ongoing creation that today much of the church call her Theotokos, The Mother of God. Within her body grew the Lord of the Universe Come To Earth In Human Form.
He knew all this. He knew when the Kingdom comes in all its fullness, Mary will have played a part. She will have been a co-creator with God. In past years he had been excited and inspired by the fact that this country girl could have been one of us. And that each one of us could be Mary. Not Mary the Mother of Christ, but a Mary who directs and affects just a little of the course of history towards the creation of God's Good Kingdom. Because to us is given the ultimate privilege of preparing the way of the Lord. We can be fillers of dark valleys, and we can make crooked ways straight.
He knew all this, and more. He was a Christian minister, a priest. He was paid to know these things in his heart and mind and make them alive for others. But they were dry and lifeless.
What was Christmas, cheapened daily by a thousand mediocre recorded carols selling trivia? What was Christmas when parish finances were failing and nothing seemed to make a difference, and yet the need of the world around, grew daily? And where was the truth of Mary's Song, when frightened old people scuttled to their cars at the supermarket, to get past the bitter, disillusioned, and disempowered youth of the town?
He sat gloomily among the candle-lit carol service at 11.30 on Christmas eve, grateful that it was the Anglican's turn to lead the service this year. But knowing he had to produce something for the morning. He went home feeling even more miserable from everyone's cheerfulness.
Reverend, can you help us? The voice came from the church porch as he took the short cut through the churchyard to his house.
"I'm Joseph. This is Mary." he gestured at the girl, heavily pregnant, sweating and shaky as she stood in the porch.
"Drugs," thought the priest.
"We haven't got anywhere to stay."
The girl was so thin it was a wonder she could support the baby's weight. He looked at them a moment.
"You're Joseph. She's Mary, and it's Christmas Morning! Who do you think I am... the Donkey?!
He began to vent his anger and weariness of the whole year on them.
"Why not tell me the truth? Do you think I'm so dumb I'll give you more money for booze and drugs, just because you spin me stupid story like this?"
The boy flinched away from him.
She looked down on him from the porch. "We don't do drugs. We just haven't got anywhere to live... my Dad kicked me out when I got pregnant, and Chris got laid off last month and we can't pay the rent. We've been squatting, but they chucked us out."
She hugged herself with the ache and pain of someone who is so sick they just want to be lying down and asleep, and the priest's anger evaporated.
"Come on, there's a place over here."
He took them into the old Sunday School hut between the church and the house. "There's bean bags in here, and I'll get you some pillows and stuff." He brought back some blankets, and the food he had for his sister's, and then left them. He crawled in to bed knowing he would have to "wing it" for the homily in the morning, but too tired and too miserable to care.
The boy's frantic pounding on the door woke him at 4am. He heard the girl screaming. "Reverend, she's having the baby." As he struggled into his dressing gown and slippers he wryly wondered who was the most scared of the three of them! At the hospital they both begged him to stay.
And so, on Christmas morning, he saw a baby born, in a great painful rush, blue grey from the stress. As he watched the doctor gently coaxing her to life and the first tinge of pink appearing, he saw her mother's face as she lay watching her child... A face of a great, deep, awesome love.
Timothy O'Neill, in the second row, nudged his Dad and pointed as the priest bowed at the altar. "Look, Dad! Father Michael's still got his slippers on!" Timothy O'Neill could not whisper quietly, if he tried. So by the time of the homily, the whole congregation had managed to spot the pyjamas and slippers as they occasionally showed under the alb.
He began the homily.
"As Timothy O'Neill has so rightly observed, I am still in my pyjamas. I nearly didn't get here at all.
For this morning I saw a baby born. And I understood something about Christmas. I saw the pain and fear of a mother. And I saw a new baby so blue I thought it would die. I understood something of the risk God has taken in letting us loose on this earth.
But what really touched me was the love of the mother for her child. I have never seen a person love like that. Her face softened and almost shone. Like a Madonna. I can't describe it any more than that. I haven't the words. But I felt like I was in the presence of a love I'd never been near before. And then I realised of course I've been in the presence of that sort of love. It's God's love. It's the love that goes through blood, sweat, and tears and loves us until the day we die... and beyond.
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