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Based on the Scripture reading:
Luke 2:1–20

2017 December 24
Christmas Eve
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

App'd to See

A little bit of Bethlehem has moved to Tokyo this year, just in time for Christmas. Or maybe itís the other way around. Maybe a bit of Tokyo is touching Bethlehem. In any event, they are now fundamentally connected not for once upon a time but for tonight and tomorrow, too. Let me explain.

This past year there has been a problem in the Tokyo subway system. Riders are so involved with their smart phones, those four inch phantasms that economize eternity, so involved especially when they are seated that they are missing something that is a fundamental value in the system, so someone has developed an app to help them out. And the app does this: if you are sitting down and looking down and not around, you would not notice if there is a pregnant woman right next to you who needs a seat, so the subway system now breaks in to your video trance to alert you that someone expecting a child is nearby, and you should do something about it, like get up and help out. Itís almost Biblical. Itís certainly topical.

You could read the Gospel of Luke a hundred times and never notice that there is no donkey for Mary to ride on the seventy mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The donkey shows up in our imaginations and our belief that Joseph would not have Mary walk that far at such a time of expectation. But we no longer need imagination to ride certain subways; thereís an app for that. Which is bad news as much as good news, if you will.

Frankly, there are days when I do not want to see what is right in front of me. There are days that I do not want to read the news, see the pictures, study the maps or the electoral districts, or watch the missiles being tested. You could argue that not seeing what is right in front of us might be necessary to our sanity.

Then God replies: but seeing what is right in front of you is necessary to your faith. Itís essential to creation. And, you could argue, itís an ability in short supply, like common sense or sacrifice or hospitality to foreigners or what all the Gospels and Epistles simply call love. Theyíre all necessary to our faith.

You might notice that the few verses of the Christmas story that we hear tonight have five or more miracles in them all together. Between the angels and the travels and the shepherds and the birth in a manger, youíre up to four already. The fifth miracle is in us, if weíre willing. The fifth miracle is what we see tonight and tomorrow, even when the world is darkest, the way it was once upon a time. Indeed, if you listen to the few verses that come next in our worship, and if you count along, youíll hear five invitations to see something ó five celebrations of watching and perceiving and responding.

You know, in the Gospel of John the very second thing that Jesus says in the whole book is ďCome and See.Ē In the Gospel of Mark almost the last thing Jesus says is ďcould you not watch for one hour?Ē The invitation and the question linger still.

Do we really need electronic intervention to recognize what is right in front of us? Doesnít divine intervention hold our attention any more? Isnít there enough light in the star over Jesusí story to lead us even when the night is darkest?

It is unlikely that I will be in Tokyo any time soon. Plus my smartphone is about five generations out of date. But if there are five invitations to see in the text just ahead, maybe we could apply them to the world we inhabit. Maybe right after Christmas this year we could all do this: notice where you see Jesus in the news these days. He is there, even if heís hardly mentioned. Or maybe we need him there. Where is Jesus in the news? And, where do you see God in your family this season? There is no app for that, but you can figure it out, and it makes a difference. And where do you see the Holy Spirit in your work these days? If sheís not obvious, maybe thatís an issue, too. And, where do you see Jesus in your faith? Frankly, when we canít find God incarnate there, we definitely need some sort of intervention.

Now, that was only four places to see divinity. You can choose another one. If you canít do it on your own, thatís what churches are for, that is what prayer is for, that is what I am for, that is what candlelight is for. For such a time of expectation. For such a time that demands imagination. For such a time when we recognize that all the world—Tokyo, Bethlehem, Newton, and beyond—are fundamentally connected. For the moment when Godís light calls us to get up and help out. Itís a miracle we perceive, just in time for Christmas. Amen.

(This sermon is to strengthen the faith of the members and friends, near and far, of Newton Highlands Congregational Church, UCC. It is not for publication or other use.)

 Copyright © 2017 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.

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