So we all survived the Mayan Apocalypse. Congratulations! The fact that I didn't open the base chapel on Dec 21st may suggest to you that I was a bit sceptical about the whole event. Perhaps if there had been Hollywood-type things going on, liked rifts opening in the prairie or strange lights in the sky, I would have changed my mind, and doubtless you would have been here with me. But did anyone feel nervous that day? Not surprising if you did, as there is a lot of fear out there.
Tonight we are here for what might be called the Christmas Apocalypse, using the proper meaning of the Greek word, apocalypsis, meaning a showing or revealing (hence the last book of the Bible, the Revelation or Apocalypse of St. John). For what is Christmas but God revealing himself to us in the form of the baby in the manger? Charles Wesley understood this fact centuries ago when he composed one of the great carols, Hark the Herald Angels Sing: "veiled in flesh the Godhead see, / hail the incarnate deity". The Christmas story, at its heart, is about God in God's son, wanting to be seen and known by the world he loved into creation.
We need to recover this meaning of the apocalypse as something other than an ending to be feared. That sense of fear is redolent in our culture today. One hears of the zombie apocalypse, of the nuclear apocalypse, of the environmental apocalypse. We imagine a world of diminishing resources and unravelling social bonds, where neighbours turn on neighbour and devour one another. If one wonders where that fear comes from, ask the people of Newtown, Connecticut, or in any other place in the world where death or disaster erupt without warning.
For the shepherds watching over their flocks by night, gazing slack-jawed at the riven sky, it must have seemed like the apocalypse in our sense of the word as the world ending. But the message of the angel, indeed the enduring message of Christmas, is "be not afraid". The presence of the "incarnate deity" in the manger signals God's refusal to abandon us, even if that means His accepting and sharing the risks (betrayal, humiliation, death) of our human nature. God chooses to share our lot, that he might, as Wesley put it, "raise the sons of earth" and ultimately save us from our capacity to hurt and kill one another.
The Christmas apocalypse renews and reveals God's intention for creation, that we be in relationship with God and with one another. It does not diminish the reality of evil (think of Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents, those dark shadows at the edge of the Nativity story), but it promises that evil will be undone by the work begun in this birth, and it tells us, as it tells the shepherds, "be not afraid".
A very merry Christmas to you all. Enjoy your time with friends and family, especially those from the UK who may be visiting you here. Tonight we've worshipped by candlelight (miraculously without any disasters) and sung the old carols. It's been lovely. But we've also had a reminder that the apocalypse started tonight, in the sense of God revealing himself to us in the form of his son, a revelation that signals the beginning of the end of the old order of sin and death. Remember these things in the new year, when the nameless, ominous fears out there in the culture rear up again. Be not afraid, for unto us, this day, in the city of David, is born a Saviour, Christ The Lord.
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Location:CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB