Scripture Passage: Luke 2: 1-20 (KJV)
2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (Luke 2: 1-20, KJV)
And it came to pass…after all this time, not just the season we’re wrapping up but those centuries upon centuries of humanity’s waiting. Generations passed. Time passed. Centuries passed. To be honest, whole cultures passed. And finally, this, too, has come to pass. It’s the time for which we have waited. This is the time that makes the world stop, if only for a moment, and say a prayer for peace and light our candle and gather around our Savior. This is the night that we keep and ponder. So even if Covid is keeping you at home, light a candle. Light a candle to honor the waiting, to honor those people that brought you here, to honor their journeying and their wrestling and their burning bushes. Light a candle for peace. Light a candle in affirmation that the Light has dawned. Now, go back and read the passage like you do not know the story (I even gave you the King James version!). Pretend that this is the first time you have heard the greatest story ever told.
The journey took many days. They were tired and thought about turning back several times. But they had to keep moving. The time was almost here. The desert wilderness was cold and unforgiving. The winds whipped around the mountains this time of year and made it worse. The pathway was treacherous. But now they were here. Mary and Joseph have arrived in Bethlehem. The crowds are almost too much to take, pushing and crushing as the couple makes their way through them. Mary doesn’t feel well. She really needs to just lie down and rest. And when you don’t feel well, the last place you want to be is somewhere that is not home, somewhere foreign, somewhere so crowded, so unwelcoming. They need to hurry. There is not much time left.
They stop at a small house up on the hill overlooking the Shepherds’ Field down below. The owner offers a bed and a meal for a reasonable price. Joseph leaves Mary for a moment and goes to make arrangements for a place to stay. But when he returns, his face looks frustrated, almost in tears. He tells Mary that the inn is full. In fact, the whole town is full. There is no place to stay. There is no room. But he tells Mary that the innkeeper has given them permission to at least go into the stable room in the back of the house to keep warm. He’s freshening the hay now. Well, it will have to do.
You know, I think the innkeeper gets a bad rap. I mean, was he supposed to kick someone else out? And consider this: This was not the Hilton. It probably wouldn’t even qualify as a roadside motel. It was probably just a couple of small beds in the innkeeper’s home that he rented out to help make ends meet. And first century houses were often just a room or maybe two of actual living quarters anyway. The second or third room was attached to the house and used to house the animals that were so much a part of their life. No one in this small town would have owned a large “ranch” estate or a garage apartment. The stable probably wasn’t “out back” the way we interject into the story. It was part of the home. So the innkeeper was possibly, on some level, bringing Mary and Joseph, bringing strangers, into his home. His home became part of the story.
So Mary and Joseph entered the stable room and, surrounded by animals, tried to get some rest. They could still hear the crowded city outside but at least it was warm. The innkeeper has actually been really nice. They could hear the Roman guards yelling as they tried to control the crowds. It made the place feel ever more foreign, even more foreboding. But directly overhead, was the brightest star they had ever seen. It was as if the tiny little stable was being bathed in light. So Mary laid down and closed her eyes. She knew that the time was almost here. She knew that the baby was coming into the world.
And on this night of nights, into a cold, dirty, smelly stable in a small town filled with yelling and pushing crowds, into a place occupied by foreign soldiers, into a place that did not feel like home, into a world that had no room, into a back door, God comes. The door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven burst into our little world, flooding it with Light and Life. And yet, the child in the manger bathed in light, the very Incarnation of the Divine, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Messiah, is, still, one of us. God takes the form of one of us–just an ordinary human–a human like you and me–to show us what it means to be one of us, to be human, to be part of the story.
There is not one of us that does not love The Christmas Story. It’s got it all–heartache, darkness, intrigue, danger, animals, innocence, an oppressive government, and a baby to boot. It’s got all those things that make great tales. No wonder it’s a bestseller! No wonder there are so many songs written about it and paintings depicting it. But for all the romantic notions of a baby born into a cold desert night in a small town on the other side of the world to poor, struggling parents, this story is not about a birth. It’s not a story about a baby. This is the Story of God.
God has come before. There have always been incarnations of God. But this night, THIS Incarnation, is God’s unveiling. It is God coming out of the darkness and out of the shadows and showing us what we could not see before. God became one of us to show who we were created to be. So, in this season, we again hear the story. We hear the story of God. But unless we realize that it is our story, it still won’t be enough. God came as God Incarnate into this little world to tell the story that goes back to the beginning. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)
Just now, the light is beginning to dawn. It is not a new light, but the light that was created in the beginning. But, this time, THIS time, let us finally see the story it holds—because it is the story of God, the story of God who loved us so much that the heavens would open and spill into the earth so that we would know the story, know the story so well that we would have a part in writing it. Because this is the chapter in which you and I come to be, the very dawn of redeeming grace spilling into a waiting story-filled earth. Tonight a baby is born and we continue the story. What will you now do with your chapter? Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all.
Christmas did not come after a great mass of people had completed something good, or because of the successful result of any human effort. No, it came as a miracle, as the child that comes when his time is fulfilled, as a gift of God which is laid into those arms that are stretched out in longing. In this way did Christmas come; in this way it always comes anew, both to individuals and to the whole world. (Eberhard Arnold)