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. (Luke 2: 1-5)
They felt like they had been climbing forever. The desert mountains seemed to be getting larger. They were doubting that they would make it in time. The looked up ahead and the mountain seemed to flatten out at the top. That would be good. It would give them a time to rest and try to get their bearings. As they stepped up to the flat part, they saw it. There…there it was…Jerusalem off in the distance. But there, right there, was Bethlehem. And in the still-darkened morning light, they saw a star that seemed to be right over the city. It was as if heaven and earth were coming together at that point. These hard days of journeying were coming to an end. But they also knew that things were changing. They knew that at this point they could never go back. But today…today would bring them to Bethlehem.
Think of this day so long ago. Bethlehem was in reach for this scared young couple who were so unsure of exactly what the world held for them. They were rounding the final peaks of their journey. But this day they found themselves no longer a part of their old lives and yet they didn’t really know what tomorrow would hold. But now, now they were traveling through a foreign land. It was the land of Joseph’s family. He had been there often as a child. But the place was different somehow, full of those who followed this emperor, nothing like he really remembered. The road was packed with travelers returning to the place of their ancestors to make their presence known to the government. Joseph felt like he should know these people and, yet, they were all strangers to him. Mary and Joseph did not feel like they were part of this new world and yet their old world did not exist. There didn’t seem to be any room for them at all.
We are indeed standing on the edge of a brave new world, perched on a place that gives us view of what was and what is to come. Oh sure, we do this once a year whether we’re ready or not. Once a year, the night of nights comes and we sing Silent Night and we light our candle and once again welcome the Christ Child into our lives. Why is this year any different? Because, in this moment, standing on this edge between who we are and who we will be has the possibility of changing everything. This is the moment when we decide whether or not to turn toward Bethlehem or to turn and go back. Standing in this place, a threshold of sorts, we see both roads, fully in our view.
We are not that different from that scared young couple or the myriad of folks that have answered God’s call through all time. We find ourselves pulled between the life we’ve so carefully created and the life we’ve been promised. It is hard to not hold so tightly to those structures that give us power and prestige and security. And yet, God doesn’t call us to leave our lives behind but to live all that we are and all that we have within that vision that God holds for us. And it is in this moment, standing here between the two ways that allows us to see how to do that, that allows us to see our lives the way that God sees them and journey on. It is in this moment that God gives us new eyes and asks us to follow the star. And if we do that, this year WILL be different. We are standing in the threshold between a waiting world and one in which the Divine has already poured into our midst. We live in the already and the not yet. But for those who see with new eyes, the road ahead is the only one that makes sense anymore. Because that is the way to Bethlehem. Let us go and see this thing that has happened. There’s a world about to be born in the form of a baby who is Christ the Lord.
This text speaks of the birth of a child, not the revolutionary deed of a strong man, or the breath-taking discovery of a sage, or the pious deed of a saint. It truly boggles the mind: The birth of a child is to bring about the great transformation of all things, is to bring salvation and redemption to all of humanity.
As if to shame the most powerful human efforts and achievements, a child is placed in the center of world history. A child born of humans, a son given by God. This is the mystery of the redemption of the world; all that is past and all that is to come.
All who at the manger finally lay down all power and honor, all prestige, all vanity, all arrogance and self-will; all who take their place among the lowly and let God alone be high; all who see the glory of God in the lowliness of the child in the manger: these are the ones who will truly celebrate Christmas. (From Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. By Manfred Weber)
Go humbly, humble are the skies, and low and large and fierce the Star; So very near the Manger lies that we may travel far. (G.K. Chesterton)
Grace and Peace,