|“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though youa are small
among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one
who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
The day is almost upon us. We’ve got presents wrapped and under the tree and your kitchen probably smells like the cookies that just came out of the oven (or perhaps a tastefully-chosen cinnamon and eggnog candle that mimics the same effect.) Here at St. Paul’s, we’re approaching the end of the week of frenzy that has included a mad scramble to make sure we have all the information for the 9,846 different bulletins that are needed over the next few weeks. (Well, maybe that’s a gross exageration, but you get the idea!) Plans are in place. I think we’re ready…
Really? We do this every year. We walk through Christmas sort of like we’re preparing for a very familiar play. The sets are in place; the costumes are ironed; the lines are memorized. In those days a decree went out… Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem at the appropriate time and the innkeeper, following the lines, tells them that there’s no room. The baby shows up on cue and we light our candles and sing Silent Night and then hang around with the shepherds while we wait a week for The Wisemen to make their appearance. And then we go back to our lives. Really? So, how’s that mystery thing working for you?
God doesn’t usually show up on cue or in the way we’ve planned for God to show up. Perhaps God shows up when we’ve gone back to our lives. God tends to show up not where the beckoning is loudest but where the need is greatest. God comes when our questions are so overwhelming that we begin to doubt and gives the Divine a face and a name. God comes when the world is not prepared, when the world, mired in oppression and poverty and greed, has not yet gotten around to cleaning itself up and making itself presentable, when the world has made no room and so God makes a home in a place that we assumed was downright godforsaken and bathes it in light. God comes into our darkness and illumines our way. God comes in mystery not to confuse us or make it harder to believe but to give us a taste of the transcendent mystery and amazing miracle that is part of us all. God will come when and where and in the way that God will come. And more than likely it will be outside of the box we’ve built for God. When you realize that you do not know, it is there that you will finally see Emmanuel, the God who has been with us the whole time. Rainer Maria Rilke said to “have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. The point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps, then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Mary and Joseph are close to Bethlehem. The roads are getting busier and the dust is making it harder to see. It’s like traveling in darkness. They are tired. It would be nice to have a soft bed. And they do not know what is up ahead. They do not know what the future holds. Let it be according to your Word!
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.