Scripture Text: Luke 2: 1-7
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 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 angelic 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 more than 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 often sort of over-romanticize it, forgetting that Jesus was human.
But that night, that silent night, was the night when the Word came forth, Incarnate. In its simplest form, the Incarnation is the mingling of God with humanity, the mingling of God with us. 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. This night, this silent night, was the night that we came to be. In this moment, Humanity and the Divine are somehow suspended together, neither moving forward, both dancing together in this grotto. This is the night for which the world had waited.
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 began, a walk that is passing through Galilee and, soon, 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. It means that we have changed. Lest we over-romanticize that night as one of beauty and candlelight and “Silent Night”, that night was the night we came to be. We have passed through to another time with our feet still firmly planted here. 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 into God, but in the very image of the Divine.
Tradition tells us that the birth happened just a few miles from Jerusalem. We think of it as another world. We think of it in the silence without remembering that God came into the midst of a world that is filled with pain and darkness, filled with danger and injustice, filled with the stench of death. We forget that Jesus was born just a short distance way from a place that is called Golgotha with a waiting cross. But God still came. God always comes. God came to show us Light in the darkness and Life in the midst of death. God came to show us how to be. Our journey that we are on now is not separate from that night. That night was the night it began, the night that God, even in the face of the madness of this world, poured the Sacred and the Divine into our lives. We were changed forever. And we can’t separate our past from who we are now. We can’t help but carry the manger with us on this journey and try our best to make room. It is part of us. It is part of when we came to be. It is what sent us on this journey, the journey that leads us to Jerusalem.
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
On this day in this Lenten journey, remember when you came to be. What do you remember about knowing what that means?
Grace and Peace,