It was the Christmas Pageant at Gravesend, New Hampshire.
The Episcopal church was packed with worshipers, well wishers and relatives of the cast. Attendance was up, thanks to a positive preview in the local newspaper. The drama critic had reported, the quintessential Christmas tale, the luster of which has been dulled by its annual repetition, has been given new sparkle. One reason for the excitement was the presence of a small boy named Owen Meany. For many years his diminutive size had made him a natural for the role of the Announcing Angel.
The pastor’s wife would hoist him on a rope, where he could swing out of the stage and announce the good news. This year, a much larger boy named Harold Crosby has been assigned the angelic role, and Owen, who was the smallest young boy anybody had ever seen, had assumed the role of Baby Jesus.
The moment came when it was time for Harold the Angel to descend from the darkness. “Be not afraid!,” he said in a quaking voice. Then he repeated it again. “Be not afraid!” When he said those words a third time, it was obvious he had forgotten the rest of his lines. He spun around and faced the back of the stage, and said, “Be not afraid,” in an indistinct mumble.
Suddenly another voice spoke up. It came from below, in the hay. The child in the manger knew the forgotten lines, and in a cracked falsetto, his voice rang out:
“FOR BEHOLD, I BRING YOU GOOD NEW OF A GREAT JOY WHICH WILL COME TO ALL THE PEOPLE!”
Prompted by the Christ Child, the angel repeated the announcement. And when the spot light fell on the crèche, the congregation was also prepared to adore him—whatever special Christ this was who not only knew his role but also knew all the other, vital parts of the story. (A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving)
This Christmas I invite you to be just such angels announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ! The first angels, prompted by the birth of Jesus, announce, that something decisive has happened. God has broken through the darkness!
As Tom Ehrich has so aptly written:
Tonight, some will gather with family in the glow of candles and some will sit alone in the flicker of a television set.
Tonight, some will worship God in cheerful places and some will taste the acid of their alienation from church or God.
Tonight, some children will go to bed excited and some will listen to gunfire and shouting outside their bedrooms.
Tonight, some will turn off the lights of home in anticipation of a merry Christmas and some will stand guard far from home in anticipation of warfare’s unceasing mayhem.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
- Today I am offering prayers for the families of Newtown, Connecticut who are struggling to piece their lives back together after innocent children laid down their lives.
- Today I am offering prayers for the families across the Nashville Area who are facing Christmas this year for the first time without loved ones.
- Today I am offering prayers for the men and women of the armed forces who are the 1% of our population whose lives have been forever altered by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose scars are unseen but carry horrific images with them every day.
- Today I am offering prayers for Ivy Bluff United Methodist Church whose church building was destroyed by fire this fall.
- Today I am offering prayers for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and the many, many families and congregations across the Northeast who are displaced and discouraged, unclear about a way forward.
As difficult as it is to sometimes hear, it is necessary that we know all that is going on.
God surely knows. And knowing the world as it is, God chose to come. Into our human experience, God came in the person of Jesus…
To those exiled in loneliness,
Jesus was light shining in the darkness. A Messiah sent to lead God’s people out of bondage and home across a fearsome desert, as Luke put it. A shepherd for lost sheep, as Matthew put it.
Apart from the darkness, the birth of Jesus makes no sense. All of us, in one way or another long to escape the darkness…to drive away the fear, the loneliness, the anxiety that creeps into our psyche uninvited.
The way we do Christmas is madness if we fail to acknowledge the darkness we are trying to overcome. There are no good tidings unless we can acknowledge the darkness and ourselves as people who walk in darkness. Jesus was light in the darkness, not a cheerleader for the pious. And no matter how dark the world may become, the light, which Jesus brings, will not vanquish.
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors.
Bill and Lynn McAlilly