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I am sure that 144 comments does not qualify as “going viral” in the real blog world. But in my little corner of blog land the 144 comments accumulated on my December 10, 2010 post, is a firestorm of attention.

For the past three weeks, a small cyber community of believers, agnostics and atheists from around North America have carried on a remarkable conversation attached to my “Talking With Atheists” post –

For the most part the conversation has been conducted with gratifying respect, mutual tolerance, and openness. The tone of the discussion provides a refreshing model of the possibilities when people come together with a genuine desire to learn from one another and to grow in their understanding of different ideas.
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It is my daughter’s wedding. Due to the anticipated crowd, the service is being held downtown in a church with which I am unfamiliar. I am fulfilling the dual functions of father of the bride and priest officiating at the service.
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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.(Luke 2:15,16)

There are so many questions I want to ask these shepherds.
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Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; 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 Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)

I have an angel who hangs beside the chair in my study. My angel is not like the angels I imagine when I think of shepherds shaking in terror at “the glory of the Lord.”

My angel is a slightly tattered lady angel. She wears a faded dress, below which stick out her thin twiggy legs. She has obviously missed her appointment with the hair dresser. On top of her head tumbles an untidy frizzled mass of curls spilling out in all directions. Her halo is crooked. Her spindly arms are raised to the heavens from which she has come. She has a brown string bow tied to a button beneath her chin; curly wire and tinsel tumble down the length of her dress. Her crooked wings made of raffia stick out at awkward angles from her back.
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In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.(Luke 2:8,9)

They were going about the ordinary routines of their daily lives. There was nothing remarkable about their day. Their time was taken up with the accustomed tasks of watching over sheep, keeping them safe, retrieving the one who has wandered, making sure none are lost and all have adequate food.
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she gave birth to her firstborn son
and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn.
(Luke 2:7)

How many times have we known that there is “no place for ” us “in the inn”?

How many times have we felt dislocated and alienated by the circumstances of our lives? How much loneliness is there in the world? How desperate is our need to belong? How many times have we failed to find that sense of belonging for which we yearn?
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In a December 19 opinion piece “A Tough Season For Believers” Ross Douthat of the New York Times presents a familiar but tiresome complaint against people whose practice of the season” he judges inadequate.
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He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2:5)

Mary is unexpectedly pregnant. She is poor, vulnerable, and at least temporarily homeless. She has been forced to make a difficult and dangerous journey.
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All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. (Luke 2:3,4)

I don’t want to be Joseph in this story. Joseph is powerless. He is carried along with the crowd. He has no control over his destiny; he can only resign himself to the ridiculous decree of the Emperor Augustus “that all the world should be registered.” Joseph is forced take Mary and leave home, family, and work to make a long, difficult, and pointless journey simply because of the senseless decree of a despotic ruler.

When I find myself in Joseph’s sandals I often respond with anger, bitterness, resentment. It is not fair that Augustus should be able to issue arbitrary decrees and throw my whole life into a state of such complete chaos.
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In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. (Luke 2:1)

I want to be Augustus in this story. Augustus is decisive and strong. He is the powerful one, the one with all the glamour. When Augustus speaks people listen. He has the ability to get the job done.

Augustus makes me realize how often I feel powerless. There are so many times I am not sure exactly what is going on and find it hard to know how to act decisively. I do not see clearly the best way forward. I am confused and bewildered. The world is a puzzling place.
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You have set my feet in a spacious place ~ Psalm 31:8

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