Isaiah 60: 1-6
Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3: 1-12
Matthew 2: 1-12
We’ve all had that experience of living “in between” things. As children we lived most of our lives “in between” weekends, or vacations and holidays. We would count off the days until the next holiday came along so that we could escape school, even if just few a few days. Later we lived in that “in between” time between relationships, or jobs or children. Now some of us live “in between” seasons of Downton Abbey, anxiously awaiting the next fix to see what will become of Lady Edith or who Lady Mary will marry next.
For most of us, “in between” isn’t just an expression, or even a state of mind, it’s the place we spend most of our lives.
As Christians we also live in that “in between” place. But for us it’s not that “in between” place between seasons of Downton Abbey, jobs or holidays. The “in between” place we inhabit is that place between this world and the next; between one kingdom and another; between Christmas and Easter; between the darkness of night and the full light of day.
One of my favourite times of the day at Emery House, especially when it is warm enough to sleep with the windows open, is that “in between” moment just before dawn, when everything is in quiet silence. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, all the birds begin to sing. They start to sing, not individually, but as a chorus, all chirping and singing together. It is moments after that when the glimmer and promise of dawn first begins to appear. I love to lie in bed and wait and listen for that exact moment when, just outside my window, all the birds begin to sing and I know that I am in the “in between” moment between night and a new day, with all its promise and potential.
It is no accident that we celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of the year. While we cannot say for certain when Jesus was in fact born, the internal evidence of scripture would seem to point, not to 25 December, but sometime in the fall, maybe late September. It was the summer and fall, not midwinter, when shepherds lived “in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” (1) But in her wisdom, and I do not say that facetiously, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of him who is the Light of the World,(2) just when things are most dark, most cold, most lonely. It is an audacious act of the proclamation of promise and potential to celebrate light, in the midst of darkness; to celebrate hope, in the midst of loneliness. For the promise and potential we celebrate at Christmas, even when things seem most dark, shines out “in the darkness, and the darkness [can] not overcome it.” (3)
Like the birds outside my window, who begin to sing, even in the dark, we celebrate the coming of the Light of Christ at Christmas when “all things [are] in quiet silence and night is in the midst of her swift course” for that is the very moment that “[your] Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of your royal throne.” (4)
It is in this moment, when things are still pitch black and dark, that the Church proclaims the coming of the Light. “Arise, shire; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (5) Dawn finally breaks as the light of Christ blazes forth from the Empty Tomb when we can say with Mary Magdalene: “I have seen the Lord.” (6)
Tonight, as we move imperceptibly through this “in between time” towards the dawn of Easter morning the darkness of night is pierced, not by the predawn song of birds, but the midnight singing of angels who herald the light of a lone star. It is this star, shining in the heavens that holds for us the promise and potential of the dawn to come.
For the Magi, drawn by the light of a star, lived like us, in an “in between” time. And like us, they were drawn by the promise and potential of a new day. This new day had its birth in the child of Bethlehem, the one who had “been born king of the Jews.” (7) But these Magi were not to know that this king’s crown was thorns, his scepter a reed, and his throne a cross.
Yet what the Magi did not know, we do. We know that this child who was born king of the Jews, is a king like no other: for his reign is justice, his sword is peace and his law is love.
In that moment in between night and day, the birds begin to sing heralding the dawn of a new day full of promise and potential. So it is for us who hear the angels sing. For like the birds, the angels herald a new day full of promise and potential, foreshadowed by a star. It is the promise and potential of God’s reign of justice, peace and love that first compels us to our knees and then propels us out the door to proclaim that glad tidings of the Saviour’s birth, that brings us here tonight.
It is dark out there, and perhaps in here, in the heart, as well.
It is cold out there, and perhaps in here, in the heart, as well.
It is lonely out there, and perhaps in here, in the heart, as well.
Yet the message of the Magi, who got here before us, reminds us that the song of the angels at midnight, and the birds at dawn, that herald the star and the sun hold before us the promise and potential of a new day, of God’s day when the king of justice, peace and love will rule not only in our hearts, but in our world as well.
So as we gather around the manger tonight, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and Magi we do so with a sense of eager anticipation. For as the birdsong heralds a new day at the rising of the sun, so does the song of the angels herald a new day at the rising of the star: a new day of justice; a new day of peace; a new day of love.
While all things were in quiet silence and night is in the midst of her swift course, Your Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven, out of your royal throne.
It may be dark out there, and even in here, but the promise of the Magi is a promise that dawn is coming, and with it we will hear the feet of Mary Magdalene racing back to proclaim; “I have seen the Lord!” All we have to do is lie still and listen for the song of angels and birds, and we will no longer be in between, but well on our way to a new heaven and a new earth.
- Luke 2: 8
- John 8: 12: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
- John 1: 5
- Antiphon for First Sunday after Christmas
- Isaiah 60: 1-3
- John 20:18
- Matthew 2: 2
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