In her much-loved children’s carol, “Once in Royal David’s City”, Cecil Frances Alexander wrote:
Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by,
We shall see him, but in heaven, set at God’s right hand on high;
When like stars his children crowned, all in white shall wait around.
Like most of her children’s hymns, the carol presents a future hope of being in the presence of Christ. The message: If you are good little boys and girls, following Jesus’ example, you will have a place in heaven. There’s nothing wrong with her message, it’s just incomplete.
The complete good news of the child in the manger, the Word made flesh, is that God is present among us here and now, sharing our humanity, including our frailties and mortality.
It makes a huge difference. If we believe that we will experience the presence of God only when this mortal life is over, then all we need do is live upright lives, avoiding doing wrong to others, and we have our ticket to heaven. But, if we believe that God is incarnate in the world, then we must live our lives seeking to encounter Christ in one another and in strangers, and seeking to be the presence of Christ to others.
More and more at St. Philip’s, we are moving towards living out the Incarnation in this way. We come together for fellowship, not just around the altar, but around the tables of our Harvest Pot-luck and other community meals. We are making a difference in addressing poverty and hunger in our community; over 40 members of SPC participated in the NDG Food Depot’s annual food drive, and we gave the Depot over $1000 from our Coffeehouse and Community Yard Sale. Members and non-members came together this fall to discuss the environmental crisis in the context of Scripture, faith and hope, and started some small actions by which we can start to make a difference. This Advent, a group is gathering on Tuesday nights to explore how to deepen our personal encounters with God in prayer and meditation.
All these actions help us to live out the spirit of Christmas, not just once a year, but continually. By being a vibrant community which lives out its faith, we can share the gift of the presence of Christ with others.
As we welcome Christ into our hearts and homes once again this Christmas, may we continue to live and to share the Incarnation throughout the year.
May you have a blessed Christmas.
The Rev. James B. Pratt