Dear friends,

Here’s hoping that you’ve recovered from the craziness of the holiday season, and drawn some much needed rejuvenation and rest from worship during Christmas.  Since it was my first Christmas in the Waverley Pastoral Charge, I didn’t know what to expect.  Needless to say, come 1 am on Christmas morning, I still had some nails left after our four services that saw very different congregations of people telling the story that brings us to the manger in very different ways.  It was absolutely amazing and thank you to everyone, both those we see in the limelight by virtue of what they do, but also all the hands and hearts behind the scenes that make everything possible.  Christmas was epic!  An epic amount of effort and prayer and talent all shared in the midst of a holy season that has been a wonderful journey.

And now it’s Epiphany.  Epiphany, the season of light, is kind of like the hand me down liturgical season. It doesn’t have the concerts and pageants of Advent and Christmas, nor does it hold a candle to the drama of Lent and Holy Week.  By the time it rolls around, most people are recovering from Christmas brain fog, returning to work and school, and packing the Christmas tree and decorations away.  I always find it ironic that during the season of light, we generally remove all the vestiges of Christmas and Bethlehem’s star. We spent four weeks journeying to the manger, but in less than a week, barely a trace remains.  Jesus is baptized next week for goodness sake!

As I was reflecting on this Christmas season and the readings we’ll be sharing Sunday (Matthew 2:1-12 and Luke 2:41-52), I couldn’t help but hear the lyrics of an old and well-worn hymn:

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free:

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee.

Long expected Jesus – yes – but not predictable, routine, the same every year Jesus.  There’s nothing predictable about the incarnation, regardless of how you wrestle with it theologically.  To say that God enters the world through the eyes of this child, in this time, to these parents – completely unexpected.

In some ways, Christmas and the season that comes after, become a creature of our expectations rather than a vessel of God’s unexpected and unusual Good News.  We trim the tree, and deck the halls in preparation for the 25th.  We go to church, choosing one of the four Christmas Eve services that we’ve always chosen – preferably our “favourite”.  We return to the traditions we expect with family and friends that we probably do just about every year.  And come Epiphany, the star lit wonder and lights and candles seem to sputter.  Having come to the manger, we lose Christmas pretty fast.  As it turns out, that’s pretty human.  It seems that in the gospel, the magi have only just departed and suddenly, for Mary and Joseph, Jesus is nowhere to be found.  What about us?  Have we lost Jesus already?

I wonder, what do we expect of Christmas?  Is it the tradition of pageants and candles and a cradle in a manger?  I hope so.  But I also hope it’s something more – that’s what we focused on during Advent.  God calls us one and all, unexpectedly and unusually, to come to the manger.  Having knelt there but a few nights ago, is the journey over?  Far from it.  It’s just begun.  God may have called everyone together to Bethlehem, but it won’t take Jesus long to call us onward in a most unusual and unexpected way.

Maybe, like us, Mary and Joseph would prefer Jesus to be made of pageant and star and cradle – a memory that we treasure and ponder once a year, every year, in our hearts.  But the Christ child is no longer found in the manger.  Emmanuel is found in the temple, calling Mary and Joseph, and you and I, to a life of discipleship and witness grounded in the Word of God that is surely with us.

As the hymn writers intended, Emmanuel means God with us.  Not God just like us.  Not, God who lives up to our expectations and behaves like we expect in predictable ways. Not God who fits neatly under our thumb. Ours is a God who isn’t really good at living up to our expectations.

Our God unexpectedly came down in the midst of them.

Ours is a God, who goes way beyond anyone’s expectations, to be with us.  Always.  That’s the wonder of Christmas that we need to find more than on