Leaving behind our certainties – Christmas Eve 1

In the name of God who appears at unexpected times and in unexpected places. Amen.

 I’d like to share with you a poem by Louis William Countryman. It’s called “Going to God with the Shepherds.”[1]

“If you want to go to God, go without

your certainties. Take your graces. Leave

your certainties behind…..”


I’m sure that if we had been able to ask a first century Jew how they expected God to enter the world the last thing that they would have expected was a baby in a manger. They might have said – as would have been reasonable that God would come on the clouds in judgement, or perhaps that the Messiah would be a ruler or a prince. No one it seems expected God to arrive in the world as a totally naked, vulnerable, dependent newborn child. God is meant to be majestic, powerful, extraordinary, instantly recognizable simply because God is so different from anything worldly. The Old Testament texts present God in many different ways, but none of them lead us to expect that God would come among us in such a humble, unexpected and unrecognizable way.

It was because Jesus was undistinguishable from any other person (with some notable exceptions) that so few of the establishment recognised him. They were looking for someone else. They were expecting someone they could relate to, someone who would fit their model of what a Messiah, what God would look like among them. They were looking so hard for what they expected, that they completely failed to see the presence of God even though it was right in front of them.

In the poem, Countryman suggests that we have the same problem. We are so busy hurtling towards our own idea of God, so sure that we know what God is like and where we will find God, that we fail to see God in a child playing on the lawn, or a woman laughing with her friends. We are so convinced that God is so utterly other, that we are oblivious to the presence of God all around us.

If you want to go to God, go without your certainties. As the shepherds left their sheep to follow the news of the angels, so we should leave behind all our images of God, all our expectations of God’s coming. Only then will we be free to be surprised by God’s presence in the ordinary and the everyday. Only then will we truly recognise the child in the manger or the condemned man on the cross.

[1] In Run, Shepherds, Run. Poems for Advent and Christmas. London:Morehouse, 2005. (For those reading the blog, I haven’t printed it for copyright reasons. The book is available from Amazon, or the St Francis’ College Library. I think you can get the gist of it anyway.


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