St. Chad's Anglican Church
St. Chad's Anglican Church
3874 Trafalgar St., Vancouver, B.C. V6L 2M4
Phone: (604) 731-5510
 

Decet vulputate nulla roto

Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve Eucharist)         Isa.9:2-7           Tit.2:11-14                    Lk.2:1-20

 

Let us pray:                   O God, tonight as we light the Christ candle in the centre of the Advent wreath at Christmas Eve, let us receive the Christ light afresh, to let it shine through us to dispel earth’s deep darkness, granting joy, peace and hope to all who have thus been released by the Messiah from the bondage of sin and death.  Amen.

 

As we gather here in this ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’, with candlelight all around us, we probably feel that we can easily identify with the lyrics of that famous hymn singing: ‘Silent night, Holy night.  All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.’

 

True, after all, peace is one of the significant gifts that the Holy Babe brought upon earth in Christmas.  And the soft candlelight is still brightening up our hearts to help us give a glow around the ‘virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild, sleeping in heavenly peace’.

 

Yet if we stop at such peace from on high as our only focus and contemplations, our Gospel Reading today on Jesus’ birth send us a timely reminder that we’re missing a significant piece of what we’re here for worship on this Silent Night, Holy Night.  Of course, Joseph Mohr, author of the hymn had not missed this.  And so in the second verse of the hymn, he included ‘shepherds quake at the sight; glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing alleluia, Christ the Savior is born’.

 

That’s right, the Holy birth also calls forth heavenly glory – that sign of joyous hope when heaven gives birth to love on earth, just like light gives birth to hope for joy and love in the darkness of human realm.  Let’s hear again how St. Luke depicts such glory of the birth of the infant in the manger.

 

‘In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.   This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’’  Yes, it’s such heavenly glory, even before the magnificent angels and heavenly hosts’ songs, the glory started with the good news first got broken to the poor and lowly, those who somehow resembled the Holy babe in having no proper place of dwelling, but had to live in the field to keep watch over the flock by night. 

 

What heavenly glory - for God’s light to be shone first and foremost to the underprivileged in the dark, those who need light and hope most in their lives!  What heavenly glory – for the presence of God flooding the entire birth scene: with people on earth and angels in heaven, all singing or pondering on ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favors’.

 

For that matter, God favors all – that’s the whole point of Jesus’ incarnation: clothing in blood and flesh so that all who receives him can inherit the gift of God’s presence with all, in God’s shalom and glory.  Yet unfortunately not everybody is ready to inherit the gift yet, just like we’re gathering only as a small crowd here tonight to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Nevertheless, it’s also not about numbers – after all, the well-blessed shepherds who were first to hear the good news was not a big crowd by any stretch of imagination. 

 

What’s important then is that as we read on, our Gospel Reading tonight tells us that ‘when the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherd said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’  So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.’

 

In other words, what’s important is that we who have experienced the peace and glory of God here tonight are to respond, given the revelation we have received about the scared mystery of the Holy Birth – Son of God being born as Son of Man as a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  The shepherd then responded by going to look for the Holy Babe and then shared the good news so proclaimed by the angel to those at the birth scene, again not a big crowd but mainly Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  For Mary and Joseph actually needed to have the bigger mystery unfolded for them beyond what they had already grasped, and they needed the comfort of confirmation as well as the fact that what they had been faithfully and obediently participating in God’s plan of salvation had started to be proclaimed to the wider community.  This faithful response by the shepherd had also led to Marys’ treasuring all these sacred mysteries in her heart where she pondered them.

 

So what are our faithful response in the here and now?  We can rest assured that whatever faithful response we undertake here will be pleasing to God, and will channel further God’s grace to others, like how the shepherds’ faithful response had further channelled God’s grace upon Mary.  We know well that if not for anything, Mary definitely needed to see as much as possible the bigger picture of God’s salvation through Jesus, for like what Mary would later hear from Simeon in the temple, that ‘a sword will pierce Mary’s own soul’, pointing to the suffering that she had to sustain upon Jesus’ eventual crucifixion as Savior of the world.

 

So our faithful response in the here and now to what we appreciate the scared mystery of Christmas is about can be like that of the shepherds – viz. go and take a deeper look of what we have already heard.  Jesus loves us to come and get a deeper and clearer appreciation: of who he is (like what Zacchaeus did – Lk. 19:1-10), where he lives (like Nathanael did – Jn.1:45-51) or what he expects of us (like that rich young man who came to ask Jesus what he could do – Mt. 19:16-30).  Christ who chose to enter into solidarity with us by being born in a manger as descendant of King David will be much saddened if our celebration of Christ remains shallow and irresponsive.  For that defies the glory of God to all, whether in form of angel song and heavenly chorus, or in form of light shone into darkness, peace to those in all sorts of need, hope to those who can hardly hold on in hopelessness, and love to the world in its bleak midwinter; or in form of joy that heaven and earth echo with the coming of light, peace, hope and love of Christmas.

 

It doesn’t matter what’s our personal (or corporal) response, as we can trust that it is led by what we perceive to be appropriate as our response to God’s great love for us through Christmas.  For example, just a few weeks ago, some of us responded with our participation in PWRDF’s ‘Solar-Suitcase Initiative’ literally to bring light to the mothers and new-born babies in the dark in Mozambique, to welcome the babies’ safe arrival to the world.  The parish also responded with extensive hard work to help more people of all ages to contemplate and explore who Jesus is and the meaning of Christmas, including our Advent Series on stories of PWRDF work in Cuba, Argentina and Burundi, our offering young people from the neighborhood to have a taste of Christmas by involving them in Christmas tree decoration, nativity scene set-up and Christmas carol singing, Christmas story telling, as well as having parishioners and friends to join our Christmas dinner in the parish hall.  It’s our efforts in the hope that more can grasp the good news or have a glimpse of the glory of God as proclaimed and praised by the angel on Christmas night, like the shepherd telling Mary and Joseph and perhaps others at the scene of birth of baby Jesus.  Who knows, some may take the sacred mystery to heart and ponder like Mary.  It’s also our efforts to glorify and praise God for all that we have heard and seen of the Christ child on that first Christmas night.

 

Yes, it’s still the Silent Night, Holy Night we planned to spend our time quietly here, by the side of the Holy Infant at his birth.  Yet, contemplating on the what redeeming grace that dawns from such glorious historical event may wake us up tonight, like the shepherd in the field being woken up by angels that first Christmas night, and their lives and lives of others around them must have been transformed since then – from merely hanging on with shepherding for their meagre livelihood, to starting to see the light, then the hope, joy, peace and love of what life can be with the birth of the Jesus to bring all redeeming grace.  May we be transformed likewise as we get woken up here tonight!

 

Let us pray again:                      O God, tonight as we light the Christ candle in the centre of the Advent wreath at Christmas Eve, let us receive the Christ light afresh, to let it shine through us to dispel earth’s deep darkness, granting joy, peace and hope to all who have thus been released by the Messiah from the bondage of sin and death.  Amen.

 

十二月二十五日(聖誕日)    527-10                 11-4         11-14

讓我們祈禱:願我口中的語言,我們衆人心裏的意念,在主我們的上帝面前蒙悦納。啊們。

 

聖誕快樂!對非信徒來説,他們可能認爲聖誕節只是個節日,因此聖誕快樂只是彼此慶祝節日的祝賀語。但對作為信徒的我們,今天的經文讓我們新記起爲甚麽會慶祝聖誕而互祝快樂。

 

首先,聖誕讓我們慶祝聖子耶穌誕降於世上,「道成了肉身,住在我們中間」,讓我們看到天「父上帝獨生子的榮光」(約114),也讓我們由於祂的誕降,看到「上帝榮耀所發出的光輝,是上帝本體的真像」(來13),叫我們藉著披上血肉軀體的耶穌基督可以認識我們看不見的上帝的「真像」。其次,聖誕的來臨,也是主耶穌這「真光」來到世界,把「光照在黑暗裏」(約15),「那光是真光,照亮一切生在世上的人」(約19),這照亮人的光,也就是基督給人的生命(約1:4, 因此,「凡信(基督)名的人,祂就賜他們權柄作上帝的兒女」(約112

 

看:藉主耶穌的誕生(聖誕),我們可得從上而來的生命,有真光照進世上的黑暗裏來引導我們走正路,讓我們重新跟上帝和好,作祂的兒女,叫我們的生命滿有意義,走正確的人生方向,並好好地認識上帝而能「與主同行」,那我們怎會不高高興興的互祝「聖誕快樂」?

 

然而,我們可能不常為這些經上告訴我們的原因而稱慶,以致反而可能跟非信徒那樣,只是為節日而慶祝,或頂多是因爲聖誕的中心點是「神愛世人」,所以我們也彼此相愛,就在聖誕節裏互送禮物以慶祝聖誕。但起碼我們也該為聖誕所代表的基督「道成肉身」而稱慶,而祂「住在我們中間」,叫我們可以視祂為兄長或好友,就像許多信徒都很喜歡唱一首名為「恩友歌」的聖詩,當中部分歌詞是如此説:「何等恩友,慈仁救主。。。何處能尋,這般良友,同嘗一切苦與愁?。。。」也許信徒可以從慶祝得救主耶穌為良朋好友開始,逐步漸漸走進慶祝聖誕的其他更重要原因,包括看見上帝的「真像」,明白上帝的榮耀,讓主的真光照透我們的黑暗,得主賜我們的新生命,善用我們作上帝兒女的權柄等等,以能親身體會爲何救主誕降於世上是如此值得慶祝。

 

要是我們只是停留在跟非信徒那樣,只是為節日而慶祝,互相送贈聖誕禮物就算是活出聖誕的「愛的精神」,  甚至再進一步活出慶祝救主「道成肉身,住在我們中間」而為可得主耶穌作我們的好友或兄長而稱慶,那我們所能活出聖誕精神的「仁愛」和「喜樂」,仍跟全面性的聖誕精神相差甚遠。

 

且讓我用過去三個星期寒冷的經歷作個比喻。我記得第一次下雪是三個星期前的事。那天是週一,剛好是我每週休假的日子。那天清晨四,五時就開始下雪,雖然不算大雪,但下了一整天的雪雨後,整個溫哥華市就變成一片白茫茫,雖然入夜之後下了少許雨,但雨水卻不足以把整天積下來的雪全部溶化。到了翌日,太陽出來,晴天一片藍色,萬里無雲,接著幾天都是溫度經常在零度上下徘徊,入夜後更跌至零下,整個城市就變成冰封,冷冷的空氣叫人精神為之一振,市内的車輛流量也減少了,因爲有不少人都盡量留在家中,但從外面看,整個城市變得漂亮得很,若不需要跟冰雪或堅硬且滑溜的路面打交道的話,景色簡直美如人間仙境。然而,這如水晶宮的美景,在維持了四,五天之後,就開始下雨了。一方面大家都透了一口氣,因爲天氣囘䁔才會下雨,況且知道在大雨過後一兩天,天氣又會轉嚴寒,大家都樂於可以暫時歇息一下,但另一方面大家都忙於清理早前因爲冰封而未能清理的路上冰雪,把雪白的積雪鏟開堆在路旁,那白雪被弄成滿是灰黑的烏點,路上雪水也把路面變成泥濘片片。白雪不但不能遮蓋地上的骯髒,路面更比平日髒得多。

 

這就像我們年復一年地去經歷聖誕節那樣,在這世代裏,大部份的人是忙於按自己的計劃去打拼和爭取,或是掙扎求存,而上帝就給我們一份意外的喜悅,藉祂道成肉身的聖子賜我們能與主同在的恩典,也賜我們在黑暗中的真光,叫我們可以猛然醒悟過來,不必長期的把自己困在無間斷的掙扎或打拼中,而可以因主與我們同在而安然活在平安之中。這聖誕所帶給我們的平安,也就跟久久未嚐下雪滋味的我們,突然發現其實我們不必每天不停地奔奔跑跑,弄到自己疲累不堪。我們可能因嚴寒天氣困在家中而安靜下來,繼而發現寧靜裏的平安,足叫我們想清楚,我們每天忙於所作和所關注的,究竟是在領受和傳遞上主的愛、平安、喜樂與盼望於世上,抑或是我們慣性努力於我們以爲是對自己和別人有益的事物?這種可以深進於領悟聖誕意義的經歷,要比虚浮地在聖誕裏吃、喝、玩樂來得踏實得多,因吃、喝、玩樂只像白雪暫時蓋住地面上的污穢,但在雪開始溶化時,不但地面上的骯髒重現,且泥濘把地面情況弄得更差。但聖誕節基督為我們帶來上面所說的一切恩典卻可把我們的生命更新,把生命裏的污穢轉化為「黑暗被真光照透」,叫生命為仁愛、喜樂、和平和盼望所充滿而能傳遞給我們身邊的人。這被净化的生命,也就是我們能「作上帝兒女」的生命,把「基督生命的恩典和真理」與人分享。

 

這一份生命在聖誕精神下被轉化,也就是著名英國文學作者狄更斯的名作「聖誕述異」(英文名為Christmas Carol)中,當中的主角Elbenezer Scrooge 原是個吝惜的工作狂,刻薄地對他的僱員,也對他僱員傷殘的小兒子毫無憐憫之心,然而當他在聖誕夜發現了聖誕的深厚意義之後而生命進入轉化,他的吝惜就化為慷慨,他也由苦著臉來過活改而滿有喜樂,而他以至他身旁的人都可以享有生命裏該有的喜樂,就如今天第一次經課中説到當上帝的救恩重臨錫安。經文是如此説:「那報佳音,傳平安,傳好信,傳救恩的,對錫安説:「你的上帝作王了」。這人的脚登山何等佳美。聼啊,你守望之人的聲音,他們揚起聲來,一同歌唱。因爲耶和華回歸錫安的時候,他們必親眼看見。」

 

不錯,這豈不正是我們在上面所看過,當救主真光來到上帝兒女中間之時,從前的黑暗和污穢都被轉化成爲滿有喜樂、平安和盼望的生命,因救主在我們心中和世上作主。這個「佳音」亦是我們第二次經課中所聼到的。「上帝既在古時藉著眾先知多次多方的曉喻祖,就在這末世藉著祂創造諸世界。。。常用祂權能的命令托住萬有。祂洗淨了人的罪,就坐在高天至大者的右邊。。。。」

 

這正正就是我們慶祝基督誕降於我們中間的中心意義。讓我們慶祝聖誕時,都從表面的歡樂跑進更深層的聖誕恩典裏,像“Christmas Carol” Scrooge那樣,生命得轉化而活出仁愛、喜樂和恩慈,或像我早前在電視的紀錄片裏聼到一群早產嬰兒的父母們齊聲説:「在經歷了保育早產嬰兒的波折後,我們學會了對孩子最好的期望就是他們能健康的過一生,其他一切都不重要了。」且讓我們同樣學懂聖誕的奧祕和真諦,活在基督給我們的豐盛生命中。啊們。