“Love’s Arrival” – Christmas Eve
“Love’s Arrival” – Christmas Eve
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
December 24, 2021
About 10-15 years ago, do you remember how there was this phenomenon that really took hold for awhile? The first one that really seemed to catch folks attention took place in a Macy’s in Philadelphia in 2003. From there, there were ones in Kansas City, MO. Tucson, AZ. Seattle, WA, Cleveland, OH, Ludington, Michigan, Park City, UT.
And plenty more. Do you know what I am referring to?
Flash mobs. In particular, flash mobs singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
The premise is always the same – right? Unassuming shoppers walking through a mall or pedestrians walking through train or bus station or store clerks stocking the shelves. People doing everyday activities. And then one voice or a few voices quite abruptly and powerfully cut through the air: “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Which means, “Praise the Lord.” The angel who comes before the shepherds in Luke chapter 2 … and then the rest of the angels who soon join that first angel. .. they make it clear that the flash mob concept has ancient origins.
The shepherds were out in the fields doing what shepherds do everyday. Hard work. Behind the scenes work. Given that sheep were central to the ancient economy, you could say that while the shepherds were not visible to most, they were on the front lines of the supply chain.
And unto these essential workers doing what they always do … the glory of the Lord fills shone around them as angel’s voice cuts through the air: “Do not be afraid … ” You know one of my favorite things about watching footage of those flash mobs – its in those very first seconds of the whole thing when the first “Hallelujah” is sung and you can see how people react. A lot of people are flat out startled – if not scared. There was at least one flash mob that took place in a food court and you see all the people try to play it cool, but you notice a good 3 / 4 of the people there suddenly take a sip from their cup – this almost unconscious thing we do to kinda make us feel secure even as we are sorta freaking out inside. The shepherds, we read, are ‘terrified.’ Deeply unsettled from the norm.
And so the first words are, “Fear not. … for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” This is King of Kings, Lord or Lords news. There is one who is bigger and greater than all the emperors and sovereigns and leaders around … and goodness, if the Emperor is who the Emperor is in all his military and money and might. .. who is this One who is even greater? What kind of resources and power does this One have? “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in an animal feeding tough.”
And this is the great scandal of Christmas:
Ours is a God who comes among us not as a grown, strong adult armed with influence and power and sway of aU sort … but a vulnerable child, humbly bound in an animal feeding trough. And the angels get it. The heavenly flash mob basically goes all-out triple forte: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
They get it. And honestly, so too do the shepherds. Upon hearing this news, we read in the very next verse that they immediately leave to see the child. The promise cuts into the ordinary and puts them into a new motion.
The angels get. The shepherds get. What about us?
It wasn’t exactly a flash mob, but on the evening of Wednesday, December 15 a couple dozen children and youth from this church along with another dozen or so adults went from this building to the Georgetown Square. And our Associate Music Director, Susan Isenhour, led us in the singing of Christmas Carols – a few carols at each of the four corner of the Square. And as we are arriving to that first corner – the corner across the street from Gumbo’s restaurant – the kids all naturally gravitated toward the big Christmas tree that has been set up at that corner. But about 15 feet in front of that Christmas tree is a bench and on that bench is this couple having a nice time, talking to each other, they are focused … but then suddenly aware of little people kind of surrounding them. Quite closely. And actually, it ended up our whole choir of children and adults basically lined up a few feet behind their bench and so they were getting front row seats to Christmas carols – like it not. “Joy to the world … ” They loved it. The woman on the bench, took her camera out and started filming us. Others, too, who’d been scurrying along the street stopped, watched, filmed even. For all I know, we’re a flash mob video on Youtube. I haven’t checked. But I will say, while standing there, singing and seeing these reactions … I thought immediately of those Hallelujah Chorus flash mob videos. Because after the initial shock – inevitably you began seeing smiles on those who were surprised. And also … there is always a good amount of people wiping their eyes as the song went on. Moments ago just trying to find a deal, trying to make the bus, trying to restock the shelf, trying to corral the kids – trying to do the next thing that they normally do – -and but moments later something has pressed past every layer all the way into the core of their being.
- And seeing the people on the videos smiling ·with tears …
- And then seeing the couple on the bench delighting in having their plans suddenly change …
- And seeing as well all the people on the Square who had been walking along and then slowing and staring and smiling and even singing with us as we sang the songs of Love’s arrival….it made me mindful that I think all of us have a deep longing to be interrupted.
We may not think of it that way, and that may, at first, sound awful given how much we have to do and has to be on time and aU the rest. But my sense is that amid …
- all the busyness or deadlines
- or anxiety or heartache
- or resigned cynicism that tells us it is what it is
- or just amid all the everyday things that so readily consume all the hours and then days and then years …
I do think we long to be startled. Jolted awake by the Singular presence and hope and power of Love.
And when you think about it – isn’t that Jesus’s entire ministry?
- Among shepherds in the fields – startling them to an awareness of Love’s vulnerable nearness.
- Among fishermen out for another day of work – “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people – people who will change lives forever as you follow my way, my love.”
- To a woman surrounded by men about to stone her for adultery, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”
- To those crucifying him, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
- Even death itself is caught off-guard when Love rolls the tomb away.
Startling this weary world and all of our deepest assumptions about how things work and how things end … that is the story of Jesus.
Do not our hearts long to be interrupted by this Presence? Does not this world ache for the same?
Maybe that is why we are here tonight. Because this is an interruption. When are any of us normally in a church on a Friday night?! And yet, here we are. And there is all this singing of Love’s arrival.
And you know, the song put the shepherd’s into new motion, the flash mob moved people from shock to smile to tears to swaying and singing themselves …
Amid this interruption … how are we ourselves being drawn into the drama? Put into motion? For who knows – it may be love’s song coursing through you this night or tomorrow or this week that startles yet another.
God’s own flash mob sharing good news of great job for people from Tucson to Philadelphia, Austin to Taylor, Round Rock to Liberty Hill, Georgetown to Jarrell … and to the ends of the earth. Amen.