Thursday, December 23, 2021

Katie Snipes Lancaster

The Nativity
Luke 2:13–15 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Reflection on the Nativity

I can’t believe that the shepherds actually go to Bethlehem. The skeptic in me says to mistrust midnight messengers. And maybe the angels visited many skeptics before finding these shepherds willing and able to make their way to the manger. All we know is that the shepherds’ encounter that night changed them. It urged them out of their routine and put them on the road to Bethlehem. They trusted the heavenly host.

And you’ll notice they weren’t coerced. The angel offers a message, the heavenly host sings their hymn of praise, and then they all take their leave. They do not stand there, hovering, waiting for the shepherds to make their move. The angels too, trust that if the shepherds are going to go, they need to go freely. It feels adjacent to Kenilworth Union’s long history of freedom of thought: we must trust one another, offer one another the greatest freedom allowed, be champions for one another, bearers of Good News, but without arm-twisting, guilt-ridden pressure. The nudging of the holy spirit, the prompting of the spirit of God is trustworthy, something that can call us to action in ways that honor liberation, emancipation, and release from whatever it is that holds us captive.

How do we pray? We pray with our bodies tuned to the song of liberation and freedom offered by the heavenly hosts; with our ears open to the presence of God in the quiet, long after the hustle and bustle of singing and praising God; with hearts and minds released from the routine mundane exhausting expectations of everyday life; with our true selves awakened to the possibility of going to see “this thing that has happened.” There is something distinctly embodied about the shepherd scene, despite how ethereal “a great company of the heavenly host” might sound. The shepherds’ “yes” to being summoned to Bethlehem was decidedly rooted in the physical encounter of the sights, sounds, and racing heart caused by angels. In that way, our prayer is equally embodied, held within our aching muscles, sore joints, ailments, and injuries. Our prayers are equally spurred by the hymns of praise sung on Christmas Eve and the warm candlelight aglow at home or in sacred sanctuary and the mystery of the silence that follows. We pray within our bodies, for that is where we always are.

Praying the Nativity
Lord, draw near.
Be with us.
Urge us beyond routine.
Speak to us within our very being.
Nudge us.
Release us.
Awaken us.
Amen.