Christmas Eve; Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.
Our Northern nights have become long, and even during the short days the sun is pale and often shrouded in clouds. We yearn for the sunlight, and we yearn for the great light, the light of the soul.
The cacophony of advertisements and store displays call out their promises of fulfillment. This or that shiny trinket or fancy gadget will deliver happiness. The other pretty bauble will make someone love you forever. We feel the false promise of this light. It is bright, but it offers no warmth and we travel on, searching.
The political campaigns, barely started, already run long, each political hopeful with promises of transformation. We have heard these promises before. But the wealthy still wield the power, and the hungry remain hungry. Wars rage on and people still kill people.
We walk on to our Bethlehem, traveling with Mary and Joseph. Searching. Waiting. Waiting for the extraordinary.
But the walk proves ordinary, disconcerting in its normalcy. A man and his young, very pregnant bride travel the 70 odd miles by foot (and donkey) to pay their taxes. What could possibly be more ordinary than taxes? We earn our livings, shovel our snow, have our children, pay our taxes. Where is God in all of that? And so we wait.
“With a gulp of a newborn’s first-breath, God says, ‘The wait is over.’ As the cries of an infant pierce the night air, the heavens explode and angels sing in unbridled song” (anna murdock). For a child has been born for us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And we gasp at the compelling vulnerability of this Mighty Prince – wrapped in bands of cloth and rooting for his mother’s warmth, dependent in all things, like every baby before him, and every baby to come.
The shepherds are called forth from their fields. Menial laborers, shiftless slackers, won’t ever amount to anything but shepherds. Calmly tending their flocks in their peaceful fields, they are errified by angels, bidding them to seek the Savior. They hurry to the side of this Savior, this Lord – where they find a barn. Filled with warm, musty animal smells and makeshift blankets and diapers and the indescribable, exhausted joy that comes with new life.
New life comes with new promise. This baby will grow up. He will change the course of human history. He will become a radical advocate of love and justice. He will lift up the poor and the needy and the sick and the marginalized and give them voice. Without ever raising an army he will become powerful enough to threaten the mighty Roman Empire.
Right now, tonight, we are reminded he came as a baby, a simple miracle of life, to an ordinary man and woman, made extraordinary by their willingness to live their faith. He was greeted in this life not by trumpets and fireworks but by the warm breath of cows and the quiet glow of candlelight. His birth was proclaimed, not in the seats of power, but among the marginalized of society.
Let us travel to our Bethlehem. On this journey the extraordinary is born in the ordinary, the Holy suffuses the world. Let us welcome the promise of new life into the rooms of our lives, making way for the helpless and thereby hosting the enfolding love of God. May the child of Bethlehem be born in us this day. May we live the life he was born to teach us. The wait is over. Let us sing with the angels, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace.