This morning, I had some pre-Christmas errands to run and I found myself on the corner of Bloor and Bay, for those of you who know the “ritzy” part of Toronto. They have some great displays in the stores and I had already checked most of the items off of my list, so I decided to go for a Christmas Eve walk, Egg Nog Latte in hand. Along the way, I stumbled upon this sign in the middle of the sidewalk that said, “Give JOY.” I got very excited—“JOY!”—so I went into the store and there was a clerk at the front door who said “welcome.” So of course, I asked the clerk where I could find THE JOY and the man pointed me over to the shelf. As I started perusing some of the items on the shelf, I began to realize that JOY in this part of town is very expensive.
In fact, I would venture to say that most people in this church would say that Christmas itself is very expensive, no matter what part of town you are in. There are all of the presents. The special foods. Travel costs. Etc. Etc. Elton John has this pretty famous tune in which he sings, “Step Into Christmas… the admission is free.” After all of the expenses from the past two months, I’m not sure most of us would agree with that. Sometimes I think that our hearts are lighter during this time in our lives because there is less money in our wallets to hold them down.
But then we read today’s gospel about the very First Christmas, a Christmas before the day began to be associated with immediate family, as good of a tradition as it is. A Christmas before Mariah Carey and Wal-Mart elbowed their way into the season… as much of a, well, mixed, tradition as it is. When we hear in the gospel of the “shepherds living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock,” we might see that Sir Elton has a point after all. After all, the shepherds of that day were really just low-esteemed workers. They were probably cold. They were apart from their family. They might have even been hungry.
But it was to them that the angel of the Lord came to, “proclaim… good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” It was to them that the angel of the Lord proclaim Emmanuel, “God with us.” It was to them that the angel of the Lord said (essentially), “Step into Christmas, the admission is free.” It was to them that the angel of the Lord said, “Welcome.”
Of all of the things going on around Christmas time nowadays, one of the things that often gets put on the checklist is to go to church. Sometimes we do this out of tradition. Sometimes we do this to come to a place where we hear nice music and see things decorated nicely. But I also think that we do this for a deeper reason… we do this so that we too, like the shepherds in the fields, can hear God say “Welcome” to us. So that we can hear the good news that, no matter where we are in our lives, now matter how well or not well we have been living this thing called life, no matter how full or empty our wallets are, no matter where we come from, we can be given news of great JOY for all of the people—including all of us—that we have a God who is with us. A god who comes to walk among us and tell us “welcome.” All we have to do when we hear that welcome is to walk through the door… the admission is free.