For most of us the season of Christmas brings with it an overload of sights and sounds. We hear jingle bells ringing, while Christmas songs and carols underscore our every movement, and drivers honk impatiently as they jockey for that last parking space at the mall. Candles, and angels, sparkling Christmas ornaments, and light displays are everywhere. We look forward to seeing the faces of loved ones, count pretty packages under the tree, and survey with satisfaction the abundance of food and special treats ready for the feasting. A red-clad Santa downs a Coca Cola or alerts us to the latest sales opportunity. The Christ child lies placidly in a manger, while a myriad of images flicker across our television screens as we catch the best and the worst of the holiday movies and specials.
But the image that is clearest for me this year – the one to which I return again and again – is that of a man by the side of the road…
It was the briefest of meetings: as I turned the corner driving home from work on Christmas Eve I saw him through my car window. And then he was gone. Left behind. But when I close my eyes he is always there – sitting with his knees drawn into his chest, shoulders hunched, and head down – alone, and looking to my mind the very picture of dejection. I think he may have been one of the people who stand at the intersections and ask for change. Maybe he had been relying on the Christmas spirit to increase the generosity of strangers and didn’t find it – I don’t know. But I kept thinking of him as I drove home – of the great disparity between our lives: of the abundance of mine as I anticipated a happy gathering of family, looked forward to being in community for our Christmas Eve liturgies here at St. John. And then, spending time with the elders at St. Jude’s before sharing gifts and dinner with extended family on Christmas Day.
Where was he going? Who would welcome him with a hug and a smile? Did he even have a warm bed in which to spend the cold hours of the night? All that seemed to separate our worlds in that brief moment was the glass in my car window – transparent so that I could clearly see him. But an invisible barrier through which we could not connect as human beings.
I have thought about him a great deal this past week – even looked for him on my commute to and from work, but have not seen him again. I don’t know how he came to be by the side of the road on Christmas Eve, and whether his despair came from the consequences of choices he had made or from conditions created by the circumstances in which he found himself. But I have felt him with me, and he has called me to move from my Advent reflections on the darkness in this world, to think long and hard about the deeper meaning beneath all those traditions in which I engage each year as part of our family Christmas celebrations. I know that to truly appreciate the gatherings with loved ones, the feasting and gift-giving, and even the worship, they must be for me a heart-felt expression of joy at the incredible gift of God’s Grace and Love – this gift which comes to us in the form of a helpless, and vulnerable baby. But joy is more than a feeling. It is more than contentment or happiness. It is a fullness that resonates deep within us, regardless of what else is happening in our lives – it is an orientation of the heart that recognizes our complete and utter dependence on God.
But we don’t get there easily. For most of us it means we have to let our hearts be broken – released from the protective barriers we build around them and opened to the pain and sorrow that is a huge part of the human condition – for everyone. I know, that if I am willing to embrace the pain and the sorrow that is in the world – if I am willing to embrace the pain and sorrow in my own life as well as in the lives of so many around the globe, and know that it is for this He came – then I can truly celebrate the Incarnation.
I can’t help but think that despite my education and training, my diaconal orders, and the positions of responsibility and authority I hold in this community and in my work – that man by the side of the road, through his vulnerability and helplessness, speaks more eloquently about the person of Christ than I am able to do.
When we try to be strong or powerful, we only serve to isolate ourselves from God and from others. We are able to see one-another, as though through glass, but are prevented from connecting on a very real level. Our vulnerability and need helps us to recognize our kinship with Christ – “who left us in much the same way he came, helpless and vulnerable as he died on the cross.” With him, we are bound together with all of humanity. It is only when we acknowledge our vulnerability and need that our hearts can be broken open, and God is able to lead us back from those places of exile in which we have languished for far too long, so that we might claim the peace, the hope, and the joy that is God’s gift of love for all people.
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” In this New Year, and this time of new beginnings, as we move through our liturgical cycle, away from this season of Christmas, these words from John’s Gospel take on a special urgency for me. In my ordination vows, I promised “to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by word and example…” But just in case you are thinking that this lets you off the hook, let me remind you that it is what we all say in our baptismal covenant, when we promise to “proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ”. 
It is an awesome responsibility and one that requires us to take stock of what we ‘know’ about Christ and seek ways to get to know him better. So how do we do this?
I certainly don’t have all the answers because it is a personal journey for which we all must find our own way – though one we do not make alone, because we walk in the company of our fellow pilgrims.
Here are perhaps a few suggestions to get you started:
I think it is important to begin by leaving the baby Jesus behind – no matter how we may want to hold on to that lovely and tender image. And while we are at it, maybe we should let go of even the thoughts and ideas about what we think we know about Christ, so we can be intentionally present in every moment as we accompany the man Jesus on his journey from the manger to the cross.
And, as we promise in our Baptismal Covenant, let us seek him in the scriptures, in the bread broken and wine poured, and in one another as we gather in community.
But also – read a book, reflect with others on how Christ has changed or influenced your life. Join a Bible study, take a course in Theology, or become a part of an EFM group. Let the Spirit lead you to your passion so you might use it as your way to serve in the world in a way that helps to bring new life to others.
God is in the process of redeeming the world and its people, calling us all back from those places of exile. And this grace I believe, extends to everyone – even those we name as “bad”, or “enemy”. If, as the writer of the letter to the Ephesians suggests, we have been chosen by God to be a ‘Holy People’, it is not for our own edification or sense of privilege but for the sake of the world God loves. It is a calling to serve. But we can’t do it from behind the stained glass of our buildings of worship. We need to move out into the world, to rub elbows with the rich and the powerful, as well as the poor and helpless, and to strive to bring even a little bit of light into those places of darkness and despair. As people who know the grace of God in our lives, we can help others to see it in their own.
In all things we can trust that we are part of a much bigger plan God initiated in Jesus Christ.
And while you are out there, remember to pay attention to those people God puts in our path – they very well may be messengers who call us to a deeper insight about the person of Jesus Christ, and the mystery of God’s love.
 Quoting the Rev. Paula Porter-Legget from a conversation we were having on embracing our vulnerability and need for one-another.
 “Ordination of a Deacon”, Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada, authorized by the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, 1985, pg. 655.
 ibid, “The Baptismal Covenant” pgs. 158, 159.