One of my favorite movies is The Sum of All Fears with Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman. In the movie, Freeman's character is the director of the CIA and Affleck's character is an analyst far down in the organization. At the death of the Russian president, Affleck’s character is called on for expert analysis. In their first meeting, Affleck accompanies Freeman to a briefing of the Intelligence Committee where Affleck says more than he should. Freeman explains to him as they are leaving, “Senators don’t like to be surprised. I always give them a hint of what it is I’m going to tell them; then I give them a little time to get used to it. Then I tell them.” It takes time to get used to new information you weren’t expecting to hear, whether it is good or bad.
Unlike these characters, God doesn’t answer to anyone, nor does he need to explain himself. When he does it’s always an act of grace. The story of Christmas is how God delivered the biggest news the world had ever heard. One part of the Christmas story, not often considered, is the way God prepared the people to be able to hear what they were certainly not expecting and not prepared to hear. The episode I have in mind is recorded in Luke 1:5-25. Mind you it’s not the whole of the message of Christmas, it’s just the beginning of the beginning if you will. It came to an unlikely older couple. They could not have imagined all that would follow, but God got their attention so strongly that they went into a substantial time of silence and seclusion, pondering what they experienced and what God was doing.
We know the whole of the story, or we think we do. I suspect though that like Zechariah and Elizabeth we need substantial moments of silence and seclusion to ponder the message of the good news to really get what God is doing even now. The good news is still “news” because just thinking we know pretty much all there is to know about it reveals that we don’t. Even in the midst of determined zealots who wish to obliterate any mention of the Christian faith in public discourse, the entrance of Jesus Christ onto the stage of his own play still stands as the defining point of history. Every person will face the full implications of that event no matter how much they may protest that it is ludicrous.
This Sunday at Bethany Place I will introduce a message series called Hope in the Dark that will explore Luke’s version of the Christmas events, beginning at the text I refer to above. I will link to the audio for those messages here when they become available.