|The Traditional place of Jesus’ birth beneath
The Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
Taken February, 2010
Scripture Text: Luke 2:1-20:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 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. 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. 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. 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 Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 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. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
“In those days, a decree went out.”…There it is! It is probably the best known story of all time and a great story it is–forced occupation, poor couple, long trip, impressive ancestry, a last-minute birth, animals, humble beginnings, angels, assurance, surprise visitors, well-trained choir, and God. (You know, in hindsight, if there had been a coach and a glass slipper, this would have been perfect!) But, seriously, think about it. This story has gripped the world for twenty centuries. Jesus of Nazareth was born a human gift to this world, born the way we were all born. No, the Scripture doesn’t speak of morning sickness and labor pains. In fact, in our haste to welcome the Christ child into our lives each Christmas Eve, we forget the humanness of the birth. We forget that he first appeared in the dim lights of that grotto drenched with the waters of Creation, with the smell of God still in his breath. We forget that Mary was in tears most of the night as she tried to be strong, entering a realm she had never entered, questioning what the angel nine months before had really convinced her to do. We forget that Jesus was human.
But this night, this silent night, is the night when the Word comes forth, Incarnate. In its simplest form, the Incarnation is the mingling of God with humanity. It is God becoming human and, in turn, giving humanity a part of the Divine. It is the mystery of life that always was coming into all life yet to be. There is a word that we do not use much. “Liminality”, from the Latin for threshold is used to describe in Old English, “betwixt and between”, a point of being suspended between two realms, two times. Think of it as an airpline flying over the ocean. For a few hours, you are suspended between and yet part of two cultures, two worlds. It is as if you are nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This is where we are. Humanity and the Divine are this moment suspended. Neither has moved forward yet. Just for a moment, they will dance in this grotto while we look on.
God has come, sought us out. Eons of God inviting us and claiming us and drawing us in did not do it. So God came, came to show us the sacredness that had been created for us, the holy in the ordinary that we kept missing. God has traversed time and space and the barrier between us and the Divine and as God comes across the line, the line disappears. God is now with us. We just have to open our eyes. And then, the walk begins, a walk that will pass through Galilee and Jerusalem and Golgotha. And at each point, God asks us to dance again. And we will never be the same again. This notion of “Emmanuel”, God With Us, means that all of history has changed. We have passed through to another time with our feet still firmly planted here. It has changed us too. God is not asking us to be Divine. We are not called to be God. God is asking us to be who God created us to be and came to walk with us to show us what it meant to be human, to be made, not God, but in the very image of the Divine.
This birth does not just stand alone as an historic high-point in world history. You cannot look at it by itself. The Incarnation, Emmanuel, God With Us, is not limited to this silent night. God comes over and over and over again–in Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. And this night in Bethlehem, this night of humanity, will end only a few miles away. But it will travel far beyond. It is part of a something bigger, a cycle of time and space, human and Divine, that has not ended yet and that, as I belief, will continue into eternity until all becomes one with God. God came that we might have Life!
In this Season of Lent, God comes to show us how to be human, made in the image of the Divine. What is it that stands in your way, that makes you inhumane? What stands in the way of walking with God, Emmanuel? Because, you see, that is the way to Jerusalem…
Grace and Peace,