Excerpted from The Heart of the Work, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Hope and imagination are in short supply these days. Most of us are more comfortable with facts and figures than dreams and visions. We keep close to what people call the real world. Of course, when we begin with the assumption that real only refers to what can be touched, counted, and recounted, then reality shrinks. Our hopes for what can and cannot be done, for who we can and cannot be, get scaled back considerably.
Our preoccupation with computers may be evidence of our lack of imagination. The modern world has convinced itself that we have a scarcity of facts. No matter what the problem we think we need more data. We too easily give up our imaginations. We stop being surprised by hope.
But imagination leads us to a bigger story. When we read Moby Dick, we feel seasick. When we read Lord of the Flies, we look at our neighbors suspiciously. When we read Go Set a Watchman, the neighbors look at us suspiciously, wondering what we are thinking. And when we read scripture, we imagine a better world.
In the unimaginative, unsurprising world, people buy gifts for their friends that they hope will cost about as much as the gifts their friends give them. As the body of Christ alive and at work in the world, we give to people who will not give us gifts in return because we have imagined a world where people who have enough share with those who don’t.
In the unimaginative, unsurprising world, poor families face bleak prospects. December is darker than November and nobody expects to hear angels sing. But in the body of Christ, imaginations will give voice to the songs of angels and the hope of faith. We imagine, hope, and pray for peace for everyone in the whole world.
In the unimaginative, unsurprising world, people are told to face the facts. We at the North Carolina Council of Churches are here to imagine with you a brave new world. Imagine that tomorrow is not closed but is open to God’s surprises. Imagine your life caught up in a hope bigger than you are. Imagine. Christ the Savior is born. Alleluia! Amen.