Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Eve on Deer Isle

Here is a monologue delivered before prayer time at Christmas Eve service by Alice Hildebrand. She is pastor of a parish with two churches: First Congregational Church of Deer Isle and Sunset Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. December through May, the parish worships in the former; June-November in the latter.
Tonight we have a special guest, someone who can tell us what it was really like, on that Christmas Eve so long ago, or at least, one person’s point of view.. . (TURN AND PUT ON SHAWL)

“It was late in the day, evening really, when they showed up. My heart sank, and I groaned to myself, for it was obvious that they were very tired and in need of a place to stay, and also very poor. The young woman sat on the little donkey with her face so pale that I was worried and then I saw that she was going to give birth very soon. I had nowhere to put them in my inn, for it was a busy time of year, with everyone returning to their villages from the big cities where they lived and worked. Many people were in Bethlehem, people who had much more important things to do than these two, and the money to pay for it besides, which they surely did not. I was about to turn them away and get back to my customers, but the man asked me if I might be able to find a place for them somewhere, and pity got the better of me. I told him, rather sharply I’m afraid, that they could sleep in the stable. It was hard for me, running the inn all alone after my husband died; and at the end of a long day of rushing to and fro, trying to keep track of everything, I didn’t have much patience for the demands of the poor. But in my younger days I had been a religious woman, before my life got so busy that I had no time for it, and the scriptures teach us that to be good to the poor is what God wants from us. So I thought to myself, well, if they have nowhere else to go, at least the stable is dry, and reasonably warm from the animals.

“To tell the truth, once I had told the man he could make up a bed out of the clean straw, and sent them out there, I forgot all about them. There was a crowd here for dinner, and so much to see to. One of the maids came to tell me that the woman’s time had come, and the man was asking could we fetch a midwife, but I thought, “Yes and who will pay for that?” so I told the maid no, they could manage without, in the way of the poor, and now get back to your serving! We were so busy that it wasn’t until I was climbing the ladder to my own bed that I thought of them again. In spite of myself, I thought of that woman, giving birth all alone in the stable, with just her husband to help.

What would a man know about it? I tried to shut the thoughts off and go to my bed, but I couldn’t. I pushed open the shutter of my window and heard the faint cry of a baby, and then I thought I would go and see how things were, so I put my shawl around me and started to go out but I was so tired that I just lay down and fell asleep. Tomorrow was going be another day of work, and really, I thought, what is one baby more or less to the world?

“I never did get there. There was just so much to do, I was always meaning to check in on them, but I had responsibilities. I never got there, and then one day they were gone. It’s hard to make time for unexpected things when you have a schedule to keep. Later on, when I began to hear the stories about that baby and who he grew up to be, I used to wish I had just made the time to go and see him when he was here, lying in my stable.

“I tell you, I’ve learned something from it all. Who would think that God would show up in a stable? But isn't that what the scriptures tell us? That God shows up all the time, and in the unexpected places more often than not. As the years have gone by, I’ve realized that I didn’t miss out completely after all. Just having heard that faint cry, and seen the glow coming through the small window of the stable has made a difference in me, somehow. The scriptures tell us that God is patient, God is faithful even when we are too busy to notice. I guess I always thought that God was far, far away, that we were just supposed to be admiring and respectful. But now I think that maybe God is right here, all the time, and needs something from us. God needs us to make room, pay attention.

God needs us to be involved. Good people, tomorrow when you wake up and think about Christmas morning, remember that it wasn’t just once, long ago that God was born a human baby. God is born each day, in each one of us. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to notice that. Don’t let your cares get in the way. ( TURN AWAY, TAKE OFF SHAWL)

Let us pray. Holy God, in Jesus we see you revealed. We see you loving us, teaching us, working with us, needing us to work with you. You are God beyond words, beyond sight, beyond all that is familiar and yet you are near, warm, tender. When Jesus was born he was visited by shepherds, common people as we are common people, as well as by glorious angels and wise kings. Guide our steps to the manger. Grant us light when we are overwhelmed by the confusion and the darkness of our world’s night and cannot see our way forward. Grant us the shelter and comfort of darkness when our eyes are seared by the harsh light of the world’s demands. Unfold within our hearts the mystery of your purposes and your power. O God of starlit distance and timeless time, tonight for just one moment help us to catch a glimpse of you in the small and simple. Help us to see that you have not only to do with galaxies and planets, with making worlds by a puff of breath, but also with us, that you are among us, here and now.

Merciful God, you know all needs before we even speak our prayers, yet for our own sakes we speak out loud our hopes, that we may be always mindful of the needs of others. Hear us as we pray now for our world, that all may come to know the meaning of your love, and to live out the vision of mercy, justice, and peace of which the prophets speak; We pray for those in need; for those who keep watch with the sick and dying those who weep with the grieving those who are without faith and cannot accept your love any who are ill, lonely, distressed or weak those struggling with addictions the hungry and the homeless those in dangerous occupations those in military service those who suffer for conscience's sake the victims of natural and of human-made disasters the victims of war. We pray for ourselves, that we may be helped to labor faithfully with you in the fulfillment of your purposes, that the lion may lie down with the lamb, and that a little child shall lead us.


Rev. Alice Hildebrand
Sunset Congregational Church, UCC
First Congregational Church of Deer Isle, UCC
December 24, 2005

First Congregational Church of Deer Isle. Click to enlarge.

1 comment:

... said...

excuse my poor english. i'm living in Quebec city and i speak french. I have my own blog.

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