Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
The older I get the more I realize that I am terribly sentimental. I am moved by nearly everything and cry much easier than I did in my youth. And Christmas is, perhaps, the most sentimental season of all for me. There are not many better feelings that I have had – other than wife, children, etc., of course – than as I cut out the lights in the Church on Christmas night and take one last look at the creche, one last smell of the greenery, one final glance at the place that has been so transformed by the trappings and decorations of Christmas. And for any of us who are in any way sentimentally inclined, Christmas memories and thoughts often fill us with whimsy, emotion, and make us smile.
Yet, it is important that we, as Christians living in the world, do not allow sentiment to overshadow the magnificence of Christmas which is not simply lights, candles, and warm beds waiting after a long day of services, celebrations and music – though those things are mighty wonderful!
Let us go back to Joseph and Mary, walking through the cold and muddy streets of Bethlehem, Mary in labor, looking for a place to have a baby as safely as one could in those days. They were poor, hungry, tired, and the town was crowded for the census ordered by the Romans. They could find no place to rest or get in from the cold. They end up in a cave or barn, where Mary, weak and in tremendous pain from advanced labor, has no choice but to bring forth this baby they will name Jesus in a very unhygienic locale, to say the least. The smell must not have been great in that space; no romanticized scenes, no lowing cattle, just gutting it out and making it through and then what? Jesus would later famously say “foxes have their dens and birds have their nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay down his head” (Matthew 9:20). Jesus would remain poor, as would his family, and he would not find places of comfort – soft clothes or palaces - but challenge and the, finally, the Cross.
I hope I am not going too much off the Christmas rails; just bare with me, I promise to bring this all home. You see, the amazing story of Christmas finds its true power not in jingly bells but through what has happened in a world of challenge. Christ did not come into a world of light and softness; he came into a world that needed to be saved; just as our world does. Christ has come and shined the light in the darkness but we have not quite allowed that light to illumine us as God intends; we still seek the notion that Christmas should mean something for everyone. The angels, in announcing Jesus’ birth, cry out to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” Good news; for ALL people.
You see the shepherds are significant. In Jesus’ day, shepherds were considered unclean by the religious authorities because of the work that they did, just like prostitutes and tax collectors. They were not to be consorted with by respectable people, even though the work that they did was a necessary part of society. They were near the bottom rung of the societal ladder and it was to these humble people - not the Three Kings of Matthew’s Gospel who bear expensive gifts – that the angels of God come to announce the birth of Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace.
To these shepherds the angels say, “Do not fear for we bring you incredible tidings!” The good news of the coming of God made man, God in human vesture, is that our world of pain, crime, war, darkness, apathy, and selfish tendencies desperately needed redeeming and, in the grace of God made man, the good news of salvation has come. The good news is so much more than warm feelings: it is a raging, roaring, river of saving love that God has given us out of His grace and truth. The news is overwhelming and, yes, it is very, very good tidings of GREAT JOY for ALL God’s people, no matter who we may be or what we may do for a living or where we are in this great continuum of life.
Good news, because God has come among us in a way that no one, not even the prophets anticipated: a baby like you and me, born not to a king but to a carpenter, in a stable, with no place to stay warm. God has ordained that Jesus would be one of us and that He, by His humanity, love and obedience - with much grace from God - would break our bonds forever.
Please know and remember that I love the warmth, comfort, and light of Christmas and, thanks be to God, it is holy and right for us to love it in that way! We are blessed to be able to bask in the glow, even for a day or two or twelve, of Christmas’ magical feel. What I am trying to say, and its late and we are all hopeful but maybe a little tired, is that LIFE itself came down at Christmas in the Christ Child, into the grit and gristle of it all, because that is how God works among us: not lifting us up from loftier places above but, rather, from here, in the frequently challenged reality of the world and lives we occupy. God does not leave us alone but knows our humanity and saves us in and from that, from this, locale. The real joy of Christmas, even in the sometimes-bleak midwinter, is that God loves us so endlessly that He stooped all the way into our reality and saved us there, ALL of us. He has become One of us, our brother on this earthly path, and He will never, therefore, forsake us. Merry Christmas!