December 25, 2014 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Tonight, a 93 year-old woman sits alone in her chair in a nursing home remembering the Christmas Eves of her past, with her parents, children and grandchildren. But on this night she is alone, and the night is long. Her bones ache, her teeth are gone, her eyes are dim and it’s hard for her to hear. She misses her husband, gone now for many years. Her kids live far away and don’t see her much. She hasn’t sung a song for over a year, or received a hug, or baked a pie, or driven a car for a long time.
Tonight is Christmas, but God seems far away to her.
It’s cold out tonight. A man walks the streets of a city looking in on the warmth inside the homes, not just from furnaces and fireplaces, but the warmth of families gathered for Christmas. His family wouldn’t recognize him if they saw him. Greasy hair and battered coat, he sleeps in a tent under an overpass, wrapped in cardboard and newspapers and old blankets. It’s a cold way to sleep, but it’s nothing to the cold that aches in his heart. He fought for this country in Vietnam, but when he returned, wounded and addicted to painkillers, he found no gratitude or respect. He was married once, but it didn’t last. He had a good job for awhile, but the factory closed and moved overseas. He lost his family, his paycheck, and then the roof over his head. He can’t find work now, because each day is spent looking for enough food to survive on. He can’t get an interview without a decent set of clothes or a shower. And its hard to get back on your feet when the rug keeps getting pulled out from under you.
It’s Christmas, but God seems far away to him.
It’s Christmas Eve. In most homes kids are struggling to fall asleep with those “visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads” and listening for reindeer hooves on the roof and the excitement of Santa Claus coming down the chimney sometime soon. But in one house tonight a child can’t sleep because of the shouting coming from downstairs. The fear of what’s happening down there, and what might happen next is too much to bear, and sleep will not come to this child.
It’s Christmas, but it seems like God is nowhere to be found.
When it feels like GOD IS NOWHERE, in the midst of our grief and despair, those times when we feel lost and hopeless, when there is suffering, brokenness, shame, and fear, when we come face to face with death–it is OK to pray along with Psalm 22, as Jesus did when he spoke from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Elie Wiesel wrote of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II in his memoir, Night. As he and the other Jews were marched past the horrors of the camp it would have been easy to say, God is Nowhere. As the prisoners were marched past the gallows where three Jews had been hung, Wiesel writes:
Behind me, I heard a man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…”
That is the mystery of the Incarnation, not only that God Almighty could actually become a human being like us, but also that our Holy and Heavenly God would descend into a world of darkness, despair, and death in order to save us. That is the miracle that we celebrate tonight on Christmas Eve. It’s the beautiful good news that the angels sang about to a handful of shepherds watching their flocks in the hills near Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
I’ve already shared four real and raw stories with you… but now I want to share a beautiful story with you. It’s the story of a man whose mother played the piano at a little African-American church in the South for 37 years. As a boy, his mother tried to teach him the piano, the names of the notes, what a major scale and a minor scale are, musical theory, and all of that–but he wasn’t very good and was more interested in baseball. One day, she told him that the best news in the world is found by playing a simple scale on the piano. He had no idea what she meant, so she said, “Play an 8 note scale.” So he did.
He said, “how is that Good News?” She said, “you played it incorrectly, you need to play it the other way.”
Again he said, “How is that good news?” She said, “you played it the right way, but you need to add the pauses.” The pauses? “Yes,” she said, “spacing and timing are important in music. You need to add the pauses on the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and last notes. Now he was frustrated, and said, “how can 8 notes with random pauses be the greatest news in the world?” Then he got up, grabbed his ball glove, and ran outside to play. He didn’t know what she was talking about, and didn’t like the piano that much anyway. But years later, his mother got sick and passed away. As he was thinking about her, he remembered that 8 note scale–and even more surprising, he still remembered the notes she told him to pause. The 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and last notes. So he sat down at the piano and played the scale again, with the pauses.
And that’s when he realized the Good News she was talking about.
Joy to the World, The Lord is come!
The pauses matter, the timing matters, the spacing matters!
GOD IS NOW HERE! This is the Good News of Christmas–that God became a flesh and blood human being. The angels proclaimed “For You this night a Savior is born. He is Christ The Lord!” God’s Incarnation, in the flesh, means that God shares our experience, suffering, joys, pain, and our hopes. We don’t go through these things alone. God loves you and shares your longing for a better life, a richer, fuller and more meaningful life. God is not far off, distant, oblivious, and uncaring… God is here, now, with us. The prophets of the Old Testament foretold the coming of Emmanuel–Hebrew for “GOD WITH US.”
No matter what your life is like, what experiences you’ve had, the suffering you have endured, the questions or doubts you hold on to, God is now here in the world, alive in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit–on the move to guide us, strengthen us, and calling us to live into his Kingdom, not just our hope of Heaven after we die, but here and now in this life, on this earth. God is now here amongst us in this community, promising everlasting life to us, and calling us to love and serve in his name right now in this life because He loves you and wants us to all be a part of his Kingdom and the Good things that Christ brings to us all.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Son of God whose incarnation we celebrate tonight. We know that you are here now, with us. Guide us in our difficult times and fill us with your love, that we might share your Joy with the World and announce with the angels, that our Lord has come. Amen
To watch the video from Igniter Media, click this link: THE CHRISTMAS SCALE and hear the story of the Good News contained in a simple 8-note scale (with pauses!)