Christmas Day (December 25 • 2014)
‘The Face of Hope'
Recently, we had a new addition to the congregation. Baby Faith Lee McKeig who was born on 16th September this year. She was baptised here in this church on 12th October. The baptism was a joyful celebration to share with her family and family’s friends.
Faith is the daughter of Jamie and Natalie, our KUCA/Sunday School Coordinator. So we all watched as she grew bigger and bigger in her mother’s tummy: and now she has become the center of attention in our congregation.
Everybody wants to see her and feel her soft skin. After and before the service, people would swarm around her. They don’t mind ignoring the Minister as long as they get the sight of Faith.
There is something about little babies. They bring the best out of most people. They make us in touch again with our softer and nurturing side, whether you’re a male or a female.
But it is more than that. Someone said to me that the reason people swarm around babies is that they bring hope. Seeing a baby is like seeing the reflection of ourselves when life, with all its possibilities, was available to us. We like to see a baby like Faith, perhaps, because deep inside we hope that she will take a different path from the ones we have taken; that she may one day right the wrongs we have made.
So it was not a mistake that God came to the world in baby Jesus. And it was not a mistake that the first people who heard the news about the birth of this baby Jesus was the shepherds.
Today in Australia, we have no modern equivalent of the shepherds. They were some of the poorest people in the land. They did not own the flock that they looked after, yet they often had to risk their lives to save the flock.
Luke, in his Gospel, told us that in that first Christmas night, a group of shepherds were staying in an open field, looking after their flock. They had to stay alert because nighttime was the time when wild animals usually attacked. So while the sheep were resting in their sleeps, these shepherds had to stay awake. There was no luxury of a warm house for them.
It was then that they all had a vision of angels. This was rather unusual. Vision like this usually came to the prophets or to the priests who had high social status. Vision like this didn’t usually happen to dirty, smelly, and 'invisible' shepherds like them.
But it was not a mistake. These shepherds represented the vast majority of people who lived in Israel at that time: a down-trodden people who lived in poverty and who had been oppressed by the rich and the powerful amongst them, especially the Romans who colonized them and their own Jewish aristocracy.
So ordinary people, like these shepherds, had been waiting for their rescuer. They called this rescuer, Messiah. They hoped that their Messiah would come like a king or an army general, with swords and warhorses, to defeat their oppressors and liberate them.
But the angles told them that the Messiah had come not as a king or an army general, but as a baby, wrapped in linen cloth, lying in a manger.
Was it a mistake? No, it wasn’t, because the baby had proven to be stronger than any kings or generals. The baby was the embodiment of the people’s hope; the kind of hope that no king or army general can ever give; the kind hope not only for the future, but also for the present. All was and would be made well.
One movie that is often shown on free-air television during Christmas season is the British romantic comedy, Love Actually. I don’t know why this movie is always played in December. Perhaps, it is the cheapest movie around during Christmas season. Perhaps, it actually always brings a lot of audience to the television channel that shows it. I don’t know.
There is nothing special about this movie (those of you who love it may disagree with me vehemently), except that the movie is situated around Christmas and that, instead of only one couple, it tells the story of many couples in search for love: a young student who falls in love with a visiting student from America who sings in his band; an English writer who falls for her housemaid from Portugal; a female office staff who held a secret love interest on a male staff in her office; a PM who became more and more attracted to a member of his staff; a young man who decides to travel overseas to find love because he has no luck in his own country; etc.
I have to be honest with you: I have a love-hate relationship with romantic comedy movies. The plot is always predictable (it always finishes with a passionate kiss) and the acting is mediocre at best.
Yet, I always feel compelled to watch this movie. Yes, I know how the movie will end, but it is not the end that attracts me to watching the movie; it is the process to reach that end that excites fans of romantic comedy and me. The characters in the movie had to go through all kinds of obstacles: rejection, jealousy, hopelessness, anger, fear, before most reach the final destination: love. (And it is a ‘happily-ever-after kind of love’, unless the producers decide to make a sequel.)
Indeed, the director of Love Actually, Richard Curtis, based his movie on the kind of love and affection that people show in the airport as they welcome back their loved ones. The movie ends with a collage of snapshots of people in Heathrow airport, kissing and hugging their loved ones. The movie wants to remind us that the world is not really a bad place because, if we really pay enough attention, love is all around us.
Perhaps, we also need to see life like a romantic comedy movie. Life can be difficult, but all is well and will be well.
This is why we have Christmas: it is a reminder that our story doesn’t necessarily end with our difficulties. Just like a person in this congregation once reminded me: the best is yet to come.
I have been quite critical of many people’s false expectation that all problems will be solved on Christmas. No. All problems will not be solved on Christmas day. Yet, we still need a day like Christmas to stop and reflect so that we can restore our strength and hope to continue our journey. We need a day like Christmas so that we can see, once again, the face of the baby in the manger and see the reflection of divine hope everlasting.
Yes, the best is yet to come. How do we know it? We know it because the baby is born in the manger today. Let us cling on to that hope once again. Amen.