Christmas Eve: God comes into the world; right into the middle of our suffering. You are not alone.
We hear in our reading from Luke the most mundane description of the birth of this one promised by the angel. So mundane that it could sound like any one of the billions of births that have happened through most of our history: “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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And 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.” Poor, and although surrounded by people, isolated, still strangers in this world.
And yet you and I know the background story, and how the story concludes. God sent his Son. Jesus comes into the world and is born to a virgin, whose fate surely, at first glance, looked dire (pregnant and assumed unfaithful to her husband, potentially liable to be stoned, or at the least, divorced and liable to charges of adultery potentially left disgraced). And yet, she perseveres at the word of an angel whom God sends, she perseveres by opening herself up to God and allowing his purposes to inhabit her life, and in so doing she bears the very light of the world.
Despite the angel’s declaration of bearing the Son of God, Jesus, isn’t born in a palace attended to by servants. He’s not even born at an Inn. He’s born where the animals live. Animals whose ancestors went two by two onto the Ark to bring new life into the world! A prophetic glimmer of hope present when Jesus is born in this makeshift Ark called an Inn. But, first, through that dark night he must walk all the way to Jerusalem. There is no way to avoid the things of the darkness; he must, as we must, bear through them. And we know his is not a life of rich robes and palaces, or of wealth, military force, or executing his enemies. It’s a life where instead, he is the target of a ruler who murders infants out of the fear one might rise to condemn him and his ways, to usurp his power. It’s a life of being constantly questioned, threatened, of seeing all of God’s people acting in ways that hurt themselves and others, of being caught up in this himself. Caught up to the point of betrayals, to arrest, to torture and humiliation, and finally, to his execution.
One of the realities of Christmastime that I have learned as a priest is the actual heartbreak that so often we experience around the time of Advent and Christmas. As we take stock of this last year - a year of military invasions, violence, skyrocketing prices for groceries and gas, of failing healthcare systems, burnout and exhaustion in all sectors of work, loss of family and friends, loss of physical capacity and the places we’ve called home for so long. So while we speak of anticipation, of this Messiah who is to come again to make all things right, while we know this story I’ve just described above, I am well aware that we look too, with fear, often in the midst of uncertainty about the future of our lives and our relationships, uncertainty about change and about the circumstances we face, and fear about loss of control, about suffering ourselves and about watching those we love suffer.
And yet we know the world is not just the darkness we now see. For in Christ the light of mercy and reconciliation shines into the darkness, shines a light not diminished by brokenness, but so that we might see what is truly broken and seek God’s healing and guidance right in the middle of it happening. The light Christ brings to us calls us so that we can bear through all of the very real struggles we have with hope secured in Jesus being with us, in tending, accompanying, healing, filling up the holes of sadness and anxiety we bear while waiting for him to reconcile us all; where there will be no more weeping, no more tears.
How do we know this? It is foretold by the prophets. Through Isaiah God says, “you have been preparing so that you might receive the light of grace that transforms lives. The LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: "See, your salvation comes; God’s reward is with him, and his recompense before him. In him, you will be called, "The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD"; and you shall be called, "Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken." And so Titus seeing this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus declares that “... when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
In the midst of the world’s and maybe our own darkness, Jesus comes. He doesn’t stand far off. He enters the world as a weak babe with the same vulnerabilities, fears and worries you and I share. He comes into our world taking on our humanity. He comes, for Mary and Joseph, and for us, to change the very destiny that each of our lives would otherwise have – where the falsely accused, the poor, the weak, the children who never get to grow up, the children taken too early from us, the people who lose their parents, siblings, cousins, partners and friends, the people angry, or disappointed or frustrated or depressed, the people broken by failure, frailty, age, abuse or addiction, war, or disease – are not left just as they are, forever marked and judged by these things - by values contrived by a society so often enamoured with the young, the strong, the powerful, the wealthy, the healthy, the best. Where the last in the world’s eyes, the humble, those who make themselves vulnerable so that others might live, are instead the first to inherit the kingdom of God; for they are the most open to receiving it as those who must live so often solely by faith and hope, in humility, rather than by certainty and strength.
So from wherever we are in life, young, old, strong, weak, lost, struggling, desiring, hoping, holding on, mourning, from wherever we are, we are invited, called, pressed by the weight of the truth about reality brought in the light of the Son’s coming into the world, to join with Mary and Joseph, with the shepherds to open ourselves so we can receive this Jesus Christ, be made new, and share God’s love with others. AMEN.