A couple of weeks ago I was in a doctor’s office for an appointment. A couple came in with a little girl about three years old. She was bundled up in a stroller. Her father had an electronic game for her and she was doing some puzzles. She didn’t look all that comfortable in the stroller and after a while she began to get restless. She started to whine a bit and the whining got a bit louder. The parents were trying to hush her up. All of a sudden the receptionist said “Santa’s watching you you know.” The little girl looked at her with wide eyes. “Oh yes,” the receptionist said, “Santa’s watching and Santa knows if you’re bad or good and Santa only comes to good boys and girls.” Of course the parents joined in the refrain, “Santa’s watching you, and you’d better be good.” I thought to myself, that’s a message we’ve all heard at one time or another and it’s a message that has messed us all up. Replace Santa with God and the message is ‘we are always being watched but we’re not always loved.’ We’re only loved if we’re good.
What we celebrate on this night we call ‘holy’ gives the lie to that message. What we celebrate tonight is the awesome truth that God so loved the world, God so loved you, God so loved me, that God sent his son to the world, not to spy on us, not to condemn us but to embrace us, to be like us in all things but without sin. What we celebrate tonight is not our love for God but God’s love for us when God sent his son to the world to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.
We’ve just listened to Luke tell of the events that took place on the night we call silent. It was anything but silent as the angels of God filled heaven with their song of glory to God in the highest. The church uses these words from the Book of Wisdom to describe this night: “When peaceful silence lay over all and the night had run half its swift course your almighty word leapt down from heaven from your royal throne.” And who were the first to find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes but the poorest of the poor, shepherds watching over their sheep by night.
The truth we must take from this holy night is this: we are always watched and we are always loved. We are watched. Scripture tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you came to birth I consecrated you.” And again “It was you who created my inmost self, who put me together in my mother’s womb and for all these mysteries I thank you.” One of the psalms tells us, “O God you know me, you know if I am standing or sitting, you know my thoughts from far away, whether I walk or lie down you are watching, you know every detail of my conduct.” God does not spy on us to catch us shouting or pouting, God watches over us with loving care. We are always watched and for most of us it is hard to believe our watching God loves each one of us unconditionally.
Unfortunately our lives are blighted by conditional love, its all we’ve ever known. We are loved, accepted, praised or admired if we measure up, behave properly, turn out the right way, do and say what is expected of us, jump through religious hoops. It is all so wrong, so distorted, and so unscriptural.
As I said before, we are all mistake-making beings. Mistake-making beings that are loved no matter what. Scripture tells us, “though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as wool, though they be red as crimson they shall be like wool.’ How often have we heard the parable of the prodigal son? How often have we heard the story of the lost sheep? Can’t we see ourselves in that wayward son, in that wandering sheep? Can’t we believe we will be welcomed home, embraced by the Good Shepherd?
Why can’t we break out of our personal experience of conditional love and trust the truth that we are loved in our weakness, loved in our struggles and disappointments, loved in our failures. We are loved in those times when we find it hard to see ourselves as loveable’
Tonight we celebrate the truth that God so loves us, loves us as we are, mistake making beings. May we leave here tonight with a greater acceptance of the reality – we are always watched and we are always loved – loved without limits, loved without conditions.