Skip to content
In-person services are cancelled during any RED or GREY designation periods. Connect with us online during these times

A Great Light, a Baby’s Cry, and Mrs. Hingley and the Mince Pie Aliens: The Feast of the Incarnation (Night)

Thursday, December 24, 8:00 PM:
Isaiah 9:2-7
Luke 2:1-20

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…”

We hear those words this time every year. Though this year doesn’t it feel like something’s different? Like the hope that we’ve been proclaiming all these years is actually, really, truly now a hope that many of us are ready to accept. And so we hear with freshness, urgency, and expectation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” I’LL TAKE IT!

I heard a story recently, about a woman who saw a great light. Though this one isn’t from the Bible; it first appeared in a 1979 issue of Flying Saucer Review. It’s called “Mrs. Hingley and the Mince Pie Aliens,” or if you prefer, “Mrs. Hingley and the Christmas Martians.” [It seems appropriate to be sharing this tale by eerie candlelight.]

One day, a week or so after Christmas, Jean Hingley saw that great light in her yard. Thinking her husband had left a light on in the garage, she went outside. She found, however, the lights off, but a strange glow emanating from the garden. Out of this glow floated three spacemen, in matching spacesuits, and donning fishbowl-like helmets over their heads. These three winged, helmeted extraterrestrials floated right into her house and whether by zap gun or hypnotism, concussed Mrs. Hingley’s barking dog, Hobo.

And what proceeded is something like what you’d expect from three curious toddlers set loose in a new place. They wandered all through Mrs. Hingley’s living room, touching, picking up, and inspecting everything that wasn’t nailed down. (And I know what you’re thinking: these aliens have the technology to travel light years through outer space, yet they’re fixated by a coaster and bowl of fruit.) And then they see the Christmas tree. If you know what it’s like to manage a cat around a Christmas tree, you’ll be able to imagine the scene with these three eccentric fishbowl-helmeted visitors. “We put that up to celebrate the birth of Jesus,” Mrs. Hingley tells them. “We know all about Jesus,” one of them assures their host.

The poking and prodding of the house continues. A newspaper was sitting on the kitchen table, with a photo of some very official-looking figures on the front page. “Those people were just made lords,” Mrs. Hingley explained. The visitors shoot back quickly and with naive earnestness: “There is only one Lord.”

“We know all about Jesus,” they said. “There is only one Lord.” What then followed was a pleasant conversation about life and the world. They enjoyed some water and mince pies. The dog survived. And I’ll leave it to you to look up the rest of the story. But these strange visitors said one last thing worth noting: “We come down here to try to talk to people, but they don’t seem to be interested.”

Now, I can’t say for sure if this story is true or not. I’m not a subscriber to Flying Saucer Review. I wasn’t even born when it purportedly happened. But at my ordination I did affirm that I subscribe to the notion of the Old and New Testaments as “containing all things necessary to salvation” and being “the word of God,” which for me, has something to do with how the scriptures point beyond the plain words on the page and open us up to the God that is there: underneath the page, and underneath the pages of our lives. And don’t many of the stories of our Bible reveal a God who, in a nutshell, “comes down here to try to talk to people, but they don’t always seem to be interested.”

But there are some who are open to talking to God, and inviting God into their home. Sitting down and enjoying some mince pies and water. (I seem to recall more than a few gospel stories of Jesus dining with people, or even asking someone for water.) The readings tonight highlight people who were open to the voice, or the revealing, the nudging, the inner guiding of God. And we, in this strange moment we’re living through right now, might be more open to the simplicity, the plainness, and the power of these words of hope:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined…. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
“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.”

I suspect that, even with the conviction of this hope, life was still difficult for Isaiah, and difficult for the shepherds, not to mention Mary and Joseph. In an ensuing scene an eccentric seer will speak of this newborn baby as “a sign that will be opposed,” and that “a sword will pierce [Mary’s] soul.” Because hope isn’t the same thing as being carefree. It’s not winning the lottery. It’s not an atomic bomb. It’s more like being with a friend (maybe over a mince pie), and realizing that you’re not so alone after all. And that’s what can get you through to a new day. Hope is rooted in remembering, feeling, or trusting that we’re not alone.

So what is it that awakens or symbolizes hope in you this night? For some it is a light. For some it is the poetry of the words on the page, or words beautifully read. For others it is a sound: the sound of a baby crying, helpless on its own, but surrounded by just enough love and care that the world will not snuff it out.

And that, to our surprise, is God; that is our hope, the one Lord. We understandably might want and expect a warrior God and mighty king. But what we are given is utter vulnerability.

Do we have ears to hear these cries? And imaginations enough to ask: now that I’ve been given the gift of this child, how will my life be different?

© 2020 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter