7pm Christmas Eve 2019 Text: Luke 2: 1-20
Jesus’ birth is so unadorned … so achingly humble. In Luke’s telling of the story, the actual birth -- you’d almost miss it. For all the drama in the lead up, the telling of the birth itself is so understated. All we get is this: “While they were there she gave birth to her first born son, wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger for there was no room in the inn.”
Maybe you’ve noticed in our own telling of the story-- maybe you’ve even had a role in some of those pageants -- we’re hardly content to leave it as simple as that. We add a stressed-to-the-max innkeeper who finally slams the door in the face of this desperate couple. We find ourselves inside the stable … there to greet the midwife as she arrives just in time! We’re surrounded by a great cast of farm animals; we even see their breath and look into their wide eyes!
I wonder what’s with our poetic license?
Is it our desire to compensate for the quiet hidden-ness of this birth … our discomfort with the crude simplicity of it …our need to somehow make something more of it? If in this child, God is coming into our world in a new way, why would it be so understated? How can something so wondrous seem so ordinary? Maybe that’s the mystery that greets us … that wondrous and ordinary could be one, that heaven and earth are one.
This is the news we celebrate tonight: there is no separation. This is the night God says to us -- to those of us who’ve never heard it before, and to those of us who’ve heard it countless times before-- this is the night God says to the whole world, I am with you. I am with you. I am with you!
Coming into the world in frail beautiful flesh, in a dangerous time, sucking in the same air as you and me … God says I am with you.
Coming into the world as one of us … born to know as we know hurt and hatred, longing and disappointment, the exquisite and the ordinary, love and delight, living and dying … coming into the world as one of us, God says, I am with you, in it all.
I’ve been recalling this beautiful interview with Jean Vanier. Here’s a man who was raised in a privileged home, who at 35, changed course only to discover a whole other kind of privilege, through befriending vulnerability … his own and others. In the course of this interview he tells this beautiful story from one year at the Paralympics. “A young man with disabilities wanted to win the 100-metre race. He got into the finals and he was running like crazy to get that gold medal, and somebody in the next lane tripped and fell. He stopped, picked this guy up, and they ran together, and both of them were the last.”
It’s one of those stories that gives us a picture of “I am with you” … Jesus comes alongside us, knowing the goal ultimately isn’t to get there first but to get there together … for everyone to get there … where ‘there’ is that place of being loved.
That’s the other thing about Jesus whose birth and life among us we celebrate tonight: he shows us a whole other way to run the race. It’s this way of running with awareness-- aware of the guy who has fallen in the other lane--and so stops to pick him up so we all get to the finish line together …because learning to love is the real prize.
Seems to me that’s what’s happening to us in the face of this climate crisis. We’re seeing this uprising of care for our planet, this passionate concern for human and other species at risk. Rather than pressing on past to the finish line, there’s this re-imagining of the race. Around the world, and right here in our midst, people’s lives are taking on a whole new light … reflecting, refracting a light that has come into the world … a light that no darkness through all the ages has overcome.
That night the shepherds were minding their own business. It was a night like every other night … that is, until the heavens opened … and they were bowled over by … whatever that was! Whatever that was, they couldn’t ignore it, even though the message made no sense whatsoever. Somehow they knew it wasn’t for them to get their heads around it. This was a matter for their feet! It was for them to go and see. Which they did. And what they saw, what they made of it, we’re not told. All we get is their irrepressible joy … they were mad with joy … that it was true: this hope for the world was no joke.
This is the night we let go in wonder … and take our lead from the shepherds and make a move, trusting a powerful great goodness indeed is pulsing in and through this world of trouble and beauty … this world that God so loves. And our part is to receive and to share in it, that it might become us, and we become it … so powerful a love.