A great crowd no-one can number
- from Revelation 7:1-17

Nowadays, news of shootings, like the recent massacre of 20 school kids in Newtown, Connecticut, meet our ears as we drive into the shopping mall's car-park, ready to do our Christmas shopping.

We hear it as we live right there in that small town, and we cringe when we hear of these shots "heard round the world". This news reminds us how Americans celebrate the beginning of their war of independence in April, 1775, at Lexington but there is no glory here. Father Christmas himself turns pale in shock and the jingle bells have lost whatever tingling, jingling joy they had.

And then the question....what's the point of all this? A massive execution of innocent children by a deranged gun-man. Is this a dream or what?

"How then should we respond when we find ourselves caught up in a 'Christmas rush', 'Christmas parties', 'Christmas cheer', greeting others conventionally with 'a very merry Christmas and a happy new year'? Should we give it all away? Is it possible to live through this evil time without turning everything into merely a superficial avoidance of reality, of sin and evil?" 

And do we go ahead? Do we continue on, having sat stunned and speechless for a moment at this horrendous evil? Surely the conventional humming along with whatever the store thinks is a good tune for the season is no longer appropriate. And will the jollification of Christmas bring us any closer to our reality, to our human predicament? Will Away In A Manger become icing on a cake of futility, an end of year bitter taste such evil has unleashed. 

There are thousands of thousands of asylum seekers the world over who having assessed their situations, have realised that there are just too many bullets flying around in random fashion, too many scuds coming in from the skies, too many terrorists intent on blowing themselves up and taking as many as they can with them, that they have been willing to hazard leaky boats to travel stormy seas to find some place where they don’t need to escape. They are looking for a safe haven, a place to live and breathe and enjoy the life that has been given to all of us. And many simply never get out of their dangerous situation because their lives, like the innocents of Newtown, are snuffed out before they have a chance.

How then should we respond when we find ourselves caught up in a "Christmas rush", "Christmas parties", "Christmas cheer", greeting others conventionally with "a very merry Christmas and a happy new year"? Should we give it all away? Is it possible to live through this evil time without turning everything into merely a superficial avoidance of reality, of sin and evil?

We could do worse than returning to the Bible. Oh yes, there will be those who are ready to warn us about the dangers - the dangers of fundamentalism, the risks of religious mystification, the evil of pious fraud. Of course. But whoever said that returning to the Bible had to be a matter of running away from reality?

Have a good long look at the Bible story. And think about the God who announces Himself in those pages. Do you think that He is taken by surprise by this mess we confront? And yes, there were the three wise men, weren't there? But what was that story about? Why was it included? It explained not only that Mary and Joseph and their new-born had to flee as asylum seekers from the maniac Herod, it also faced up to the grizzly truth that Jesus somehow survived the attack on baby-boys in Bethlehem that left so many mothers traumatised and fathers battling with a life-time of bi-polar anxiety. Have a good look and then think again about what this Christmas season is all about.

It is right that when we stop to think about the birth of Jesus, we are also reckoning with the importance of a story that looks forward to a time when all our Christmas anxieties, our Christmas loneliness and Christmas confusion, and Christmas argument and despair, will be done away with forever.

The Gospels are not all there is to this story. It is certainly important that they tell us of the birth of this Person, but this Person is Himself the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the evil, the maniacal sin, of the world. That is the true and only hope of Christmas. It is a hope of eventual victory which the story tells us in no uncertain terms is sure and will come about. You can even stake your life on it.

Just consider the last book of the Bible's picture of a mighty crowd that no one can number who are all waving palm branches in celebration of this Lamb's great victory. They are decorations using the good things that have grown up out of the earth to pay humble and glad respect to a mighty and decisive Victory.

And that same song of praise and devotion is being crafted, line-upon-line, verse-after-verse. And John the writer is joining the chorus - as it swells from all those caught in the victory that this Lamb of God has brought. In that picture, the elders, the messengers and all the very watchful creatures are there because they deeply please the One who sits upon the throne.

But who are these multitudes? The elder prods John to explain his vision. But John needs to have it explained:

You tell me, please...!

And the elder's answer is given in a rhapsody:

These are they who enduring great trial
Come through the wash, dipped in the blood
Whiter than snow, loyal they stand
Rendering service, His temple their home.
Safely protected under His wings,
Feeds and tends their thirst He's quenched.
Sun and its burning no longer beat down
For the Lamb's taken His very own throne.
He is their Shepherd wipes all tears away
The peaceful spring waters their paths everyday.

Who are these? They are those who has suffered as they appreciate what God has richly in store for them after coming through a great trial, a time of exceeding anguish upon all nations, the likes of which has never happened before.

That is also who we are if we join in the chorus. The song that comes to John and teaches him a new verse, is an ancient song and it goes on and on. It tells John why his tears need to be dried. To see and involve himself in the great festal gladness with those whose full wardrobe has been completely cleansed and made as new in the sheep-dip of the shed blood of the Lamb whose life makes these festivities meaningful and possible and fuels the musical response of a thankful, ardent beat.

That cleansing has put an end to all futility so that every minute retains its fullest quavering meaning on an overflowing scale. They live under the shelter of His wings as Moses had sung (Psalm 90, 91). They are fully and completely at home in their own land, secure in their own house, now made into His dwelling, His temple. This is what has come to pass and the Lord God, the Mighty Creator and Redeemer was so pleased to share His glory with recipients who can not only reply with "Thankyou!" but also compose a deeply satisfying song of praise with Him as their life, their Shepherd who dries their eyes and makes them glad. Just like the shepherds from those Bethlehem hills who hummed their songs to the Babe, while Mary wiped away the tears of her own eyes and those of her first-born, little boy.

But let's remember the story, the other new born boys in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and that this same Baby was the third member of a fleeing family seeking asylum in Egypt. That way we avoid a "Christmas story" that simply appeals to nostalgia and sentimentalism and, by keeping the full Biblical story in view our celebration of the birth of Jesus is what it should be - a response to God's love and mercy to live with renewed about the Victory He brings about through the Lamb of God.