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A Christmas Message from Bishop Garry Thu 24th of Dec.

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Christmas is a time of extremes.

Many of us eat and drink too much, while three quarters of the world's population barely has enough to survive.

Our Christmas trees are crowded with presents, beautifully wrapped and carefully chosen, while at the same time people live in their cars or "couch surf" because they are homeless.

We offer and receive generous hospitality with the people we know and love and who, for the most part, are just like us.

We celebrate the birth of an obscure baby in a remote part of the Middle East whose parentage is uncertain, and at the same time we rejoice in the Eternal Word made flesh.

God is the Great Creator and also, somehow, simultaneously, comes into our lives as a helpless baby.

For those of us who are "god botherers" Christmas is a solemn and holy time. For most of our contemporary community it is a time for raucous partying, hot days filled with cricket, the beach and cold beer and holidays.

Sometimes the juxtaposition of these extremes calls us to a more generous and reflective living.

In the medieval world, these contrasting extremes of the Christmas celebration were built in to the Mystery Plays, that each year were performed around the walled cities of York, Chester and Wakefield. Each part of the Biblical story was performed by local traders dressed up to resemble Biblical characters, who acted out various gospel stories, to help make them seem fresh and relevant to those who came to town for the Christmas markets. In the York plays there are two quite different plays about the Shepherds.

The first play is very traditional. The shepherds are drowsy as the cold night wears on. They share stories to keep themselves awake until, suddenly the sky is lit with supernatural light and the angels sing, announcing the coming of the long anticipated messiah. The shepherds determine that Mac, one of their number will stay to care for the sheep, while the rest go into the city to see this wondrous sight. There is no little drummer boy, but everything else is just as we would expect.

The second play is quite different. It tells the story of Mac, the one shepherd who didn't go into Bethlehem. He stayed behind, and took the opportunity to steal a lamb and take it home to his wife to look after until it was ready for eating. He stays at home a bit too long, and the other shepherds, returning from their visit to the Christ Child, find him absent. They also notice that a lamb seems to be missing. They go straight to Mac's house and knock loudly. The lamb inside starts to bleat and so Mac's wife cries out loudly as if she is giving birth. Mac shouts through the door that they cant come in because of his wife's confinement. The shepherds insist. They want to see the newborn child. Finally Mac opens the door. Mac's wife has the lamb covered and held close to her breast, but the shepherds will not be diverted. They want to see the bonny babe's face, just as they did on their recent visit to Bethlehem.

The game is up. Mac's wife opens the blanket and they see the lamb that was missing. The shepherds haul Mac outside and as they castigate him for his bad behavior, they toss him in a blanket until his head is whirling and they are all exhausted with the effort of so much laughter and frivolity.

Where is the Lamb off God in these plays?

Well in both places, of course.

In the solemn midnight visit to the stable, the shepherds worship the new born King.
In the story of the missing lamb that Mac has stolen we see again something of the extremes of Christmas.

The Lamb comes to great ones and to the lowly, to honest and dishonest alike. The lamb is hidden in the midst of us, just waiting to be revealed. And as we celebrate these extremes of Christmas, like the old shepherds of the Second Shepherds' play, we are invited to fall about exhausted by wonder and laughter and delight.

There is much in our contemporary everyday world that causes us grief and pain and anxiety:

Our loved ones suffer or die or disappoint us
Family life is ever changing
Cultural norms and values seem constantly under threat
The bushfire season creates a deep unease amongst many of us (last week at Scotsburn, next week....)

Even here in a relatively rich part of God's word we are confronted almost daily with the failures of the Church in past generations to care properly for the weak and vulnerable. We must continue to seek new ways to respond to the survivors of abuse in our Church communities so that they are truly safe places for all people.

Sometimes we feel almost overwhelmed with problem overload.

And yet, Christmas reminds us that it is in the very middle and muddle of our complex lives that Christ comes to dwell as one of us, with us , for us. In being born as one of us, sharing our fragile lives, feeling pain and joy, sorrow and ecstasy, the Christ Child sanctifies every extreme of our complex experience and calls us into holy living into wonder and laughter and delight.

May you have a happy holy and laughter filled Christmas.

Bishop Garry Weatherill
24th December 2015

 

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