Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Vigil (Childrens’ Pageant)
Scratch & Win

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7; Luke 2:1-14 (Childrens’ Lectionary)

Sisters and brothers, all you who are very young, young and young at heart, how are you feeling this evening? Tonight, the baby Jesus finally arrives in our crib. As we stand with Mary and Joseph before the manger, surrounded by angels and animals, shepherds and wise men, as we gaze in awe upon the little baby Jesus’ face shining as if with the quiet radiance of reflected starlight, how do we feel?

Like many of you, probably, there is a nice warm glow in my heart and a sigh of contentment just waiting to escape through my lips. The baby is so cute... The shepherds look so sincere... The wise men so piously sober... The sheep are so… well… so woolly. The scene is just perfect… Except that there are three little words that keep crisscrossing my mind, words that have nothing to do with the crib, words that come from another part of my brain, distracting me from my cozy contentment: Scratch & Win…, they say, Scratch & WinScratch & Win

The words are familiar but sound very strange on this night of wonder. They recall the world of marketing and of advertising. I think of those little cards with a little silver-colored box on them. They look nice and neat, but you can’t leave them that way. You have to mess them up a bit. You have to scratch that metallic surface and look under it, because that’s what they’re for. The cards are important only for the prize that might be lying beneath. Scratch & Win

Disturbed from my reverie, I ponder again the scene before me. What am I looking at here? Why am I so happy and contented, apart from the fact that I usually feel this way around cute and chubby little babies? Scratch & Win

I recall our readings for tonight. And I’m almost shocked by what I hear. The reason for my joy is explained quite clearly in them. This bouncy baby, this chubby child, whose cheeks I’m so tempted to pinch, He is the promised One sent to save us. He is the One who has broken the power of those who oppressed and enslaved God’s people. And his power will never end. Wow! No wonder I’m happy.

But wait a minute! Could this really be true? How can this helpless baby also be a powerful savior? Is it really possible? Do I really believe it? How can it be so? When I think of powerful saviors coming to the rescue, I think of Superman or Spiderman, or perhaps even Jacky Chan, but a baby in a manger?

Yes, I’m scratching the surface of my contentment. And already it’s starting to look messy. Helpless babe, powerful savior – the two ideas don’t go together. And the gospel doesn’t help either. A savior is born for you… You will know who he is, because you will find him dressed in baby clothes and lying in a manger. Powerful savior, baby clothes, manger… No, they don’t fit. I’m beginning to regret scratching the surface after all.

But then another memory enters my mind. It’s a story I heard a long time ago, the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. You know it too. Remember how the two cheats tricked the Emperor into believing that they could make him a special garment that only intelligent people could see? Remember how the Emperor paraded through the streets in his birthday suit and nobody dared to say a thing? Who was the powerful savior who came to his rescue? An innocent little child. He saw the truth clearly and shouted out bravely, The Emperor is naked! And, because of that little child, both Emperor and his people were saved from the evil trickery that was holding them hostage.

Could this be what this baby is doing for me? For us? I know that this baby will grow up to do just that. He will see through the false pretences that people put up to hide their insecurities and sinfulness. He will courageously scratch the surface of their hypocrisy and invite them to do the same. And he will pay the price for it with his life.

But even now, as a baby, isn’t he doing the same thing for me? As I gaze upon his helpless little body, as I peer into his searching eyes, isn’t he teaching me to look more deeply at my own life, at the activities that fill my days, the things with which I surround myself? Isn’t he challenging me to see more clearly the times when, even though I may think I’ve clothed my life with very beautiful and stylish designer garments, I’m really quite naked? Just by lying there in that manger that is not his own, and wrapped in borrowed clothes, isn’t he wordlessly encouraging me to scratch the surface of my own life, and of our own collective life as a people, to see if there’s anything truly enduring lying beneath?

And isn’t this what we need to do to experience the grace that this baby brings us at Christmas? We need to scratch the surface of our habitual romantic Christmasy feelings in order to allow ourselves to be washed over anew by the deep joy that comes from standing before the babe in the manger and having him teach us the things that are truly important.

Sisters and brothers, I wish you all a truly blessed and joyful Christmas!

Are you ready to scratch and win?


  1. Hi Chris,

    Andrew and I wish you too a very blessed Christmas and the Happiest New Year 2007! May you experience the deep joy of our baby Jesus always... :)


  2. Thanks for the awesome reflection, Chris. Honest. I enjoy reading your blog because it stands many things on their heads and forces me to view my world differently.

    The next time I get one of those Scratch-and-Win cards, I won't toss it away without first recalling your reflection. You see, my problem is not mistaking the prize for the means to get it (the card). My problem is that I am just not interested. Bah!

    This indifference sometimes costs me dearly. I miss the incarnation of the holy in the events of my life and indeed my very life. And sometime after the Three Wise Men crossed my path en route home (and I realise they know where the Infant King can be found), it's too late to run after them for directions.

    This Christmas, the best gift I can receive is the gift of not missing opportunities to encounter the divine.