Christmas Grace

The bedside phone rang at 2:30am on Christmas morning. The caller was Kim, a member of the local police department, an officer with whom I had become acquainted through my work as pastor in Abbotsford, BC.
Kim asked that I come to identify one of our church camels which had become the unwitting participant in a game of dare between two teenagers on a Christmas Eve date. The camel was one of two particle board creatures of the desert mounted on the flat roof area of the church and part of a Christmas display proudly created and constructed by the youth of the church. Bright floodlights illumined the entire scene. And so it was that two alien displaced desert dwellers stood exposed in all their stark, non-resident vulnerability.
And vulnerable they were. In their precarious state the two had become the desire of a young woman who apparently had it all at Christmas except a particle board camel. She had coveted, and had dared her boyfriend to get her at least one of those camels. The young man stopped his van, (who said chivalry is not alive and well among the young?) mounted the church roof and separated the creature from its church moorings. He was in the process of loading the hapless humpback into his vehicle when friend Kim and his partner happened upon the scene, a scene which prompted much hilarity as well as good and proper official chagrin on the part of the two officers.
With both humor and severity still clearly evident in his voice, Kim called at 2:30am. It goes without saying that no pastor or person prone to sin when annoyed should be roused at such an hour. Concepts of grace and mercy strangely lose their appeal at the ringing of a phone sometime after midnight, even at Christmas.
But alas, all was not lost. For one, my search of a good Christmas story for the service the next morning was unexpectedly rewarded. And the church people were gracious regarding the ungracious treatment accorded one of the church camels. Also, some of the people, including the pastor and perhaps even the two officers, remembered their own youth and decided, without much further thought not to throw the metaphorical stones.
The pilfered camel, and its saga, was – and is – fodder for reflection on the very stories and themes central to Christmas: young people, unexpected night-time intrusions, lights, camels (maybe), vulnerability, sacrifice, authorities, sin, grace, mercy and more.
It was prophesied, and later fulfilled according to Matthew and Luke, that a young person – a woman – likely in her mid-teens, would be a very central figure in bringing about God incarnate; a young woman, obviously valued, and trusted by God to carry out this perilous, glorious and eternally important calling: the bearing of Emmanuel. This was a young woman, not a middle aged, socially or religiously sanctioned person of adequate status.
A young woman and an eternal God each allowed themselves to become vulnerable, however each in their own way, but both open to being misunderstood, rejected and dismissed.
An eternal God determined to come, to connect, to redeem and to love and to do all that and more in a thoroughly unexpected way: taking on the form of a servant, born to a peasant in drastically unkingly circumstances. And he came not merely to confront pranksters to tell them to be good but he came to do battle with and ultimately defeat both sin and its finest tool, death. Sacrifice of himself was what characterized incarnation, Emmanuel.
The time of that coming was inconvenient to some and annoying to others in ways that seemed similar to a phone call at 2:30am. Would there not have been a more appropriate time for God incarnate to have been born than in the middle of the night when shepherds – not pastors, in this case – needed to rest and not be bothered by calls from angels on night patrol?
Perhaps, but God seems to relish surprising and waking people indulging in various kinds of sleep whether it is high noon or 2:30am, kairos time.
And then there was and is – grace, that ultimately godly characteristic extended by a gracious congregation to two pranksters – OK, thieves. However, their grace was quite impersonal since the congregation and the two youths never met. God’s Christmas grace, however, is personal and meets the graceless as a free gift. It is carried, given and lavished in Person. Jesus Christ is the name.
Christmas grace!

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Peter Penner

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