(A Meditation for Christmas Eve 2016, based on Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20)
One of the things that I find most compelling and beautiful about the story of Christmas is how the deep mystery and profound wonder of it is found amidst the most basic and earthy things of life: in the mud and hay of a stable with the sound and smell of animals all around; in the cold dampness of a silent, winter night; and especially in the most natural and some might say commonplace event of human life, and yet one that at the same time is among its most powerful and unique experiences: the birth of a child!
One night a few Christmases ago I was out on one last quick trip out to a store to do some shopping and found myself waiting in a very long checkout line with a young couple who had also been out shopping, but in the company of their newborn: a beautiful, bright-eyed little baby boy no more than a month or two old. Now, these parents were as proud of – and as attentive to – this child as you would expect them to be; and if their shopping cart was any indication, that little one was going to have way more gifts than he would ever know what to do with!
But it was also getting late, and the baby was understandably getting a little fussy (hey, we were all getting a little fussy; that line was very long, indeed!), and Mommy and Daddy were doing everything they could to calm him down. They passed him back and forth, they gave him a bottle and a pacifier, they even did what I used to call “the Daddy Shuffle,” but nothing was working! So by the time we were getting near to the counter, Mom and Dad were working double time to get the shopping cart unloaded; but it was too late, and the baby started to cry! And although his parents were doing a commendable job even now in trying to settle him down, it was clear that this child had a very powerful set of lungs!
As I watched this, it got me to remembering Lisa’s and my three children when they were newborns, and how we realized early on that the cry of a new born baby is one of the beautiful and most awful sounds in all the world! On the one hand, that sound is filled with what Patricia DeJong has described as “the urgent, insistent power of new life,” but at the same time, anybody who cares for a baby can also tell you that it is also an equally urgent demand for satisfaction and immediate attention: this very basic, human need each one of us is born with to be fed, to be changed, or simply to be held and loved.
And I’m watching these new parents, and I’m thinking, “There you go (!); if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is just the beginning! Everything you know is going to be turned upside down and inside out; you’re in for the biggest change of your lives, a reversal of life as you once knew it. Your house, your eating habits, your ability to sleep, to be awake, to work and even to love all change simply by the virtue of this child coming into the world.” It does seem like a monumental change, and it is: but as all this was going on in the checkout line, here was the thing that I couldn’t help noticing: that one look at these parents, and you knew they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Well, beloved, tonight there has been another birth: “a child has been born for us, a son given to us,” a child born in the manger of Bethlehem, surrounded only by his mother and his earthly father, along with assortment of farm animals and some visiting shepherds. Tonight we’ve happened upon a moment that’s utterly silent and filled with serenity, and notable for its incredible simplicity; but make no mistake, this is a birth that’s turning the world upside down and is about to disrupt everything we’ve ever held to be true about life, for the sake of making all things new! For unto us this night is a child who brings good tidings to the afflicted and binds up the wounds of the broken hearted; this is a child who by his very being will bring forth gladness rather than mourning, and praise instead of a faint spirit; this is a child who heralds a new realm where love and justice will prevail, and where the peace we’ve longed for so long will finally come to pass. This is the child who is named “Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord; the one who will grow to be prophet and teacher, healer and master and friend, the Savior of us all; but on this silent, holy night, he’s simply a baby, a newborn crying out in the night to be held, and to be fed and to be loved.
Throughout the weeks of Advent, we’ve talked a lot about waiting, watching and preparing for the moment of this birth. Some of that has involved getting ready for the big celebration of Christmas that has already begun; but it’s also been, and primarily so, about preparing our hearts spiritually for his coming. And one of the most important parts of preparing is understanding that our coming to the manger tonight is not the end of the journey, but merely its beginning. It’s the knowledge that now the baby grows up, and that now we are being called to walk with this child Jesus as he grows to adulthood, as he begins his ministry of salvation on the roads of Galilee, as he heals the sick and gives hope to those without hope. It’s the realization that as eventually he turns his heart toward Jerusalem and finally to the cross of Golgotha, we will have to go with him. You see, as beautiful and joyous a thing it is for us to approach the manger tonight, you and I need to understand that this is the beginning of something more; something deeper; something wholly divine. Friends, this silent, holy night as an affirmation that Jesus has come to change our world, to give us life, and in end of that life, as the song goes, “to take us to heaven and live with [him] there.”
This the journey that awaits us, beloved; but may I say here that it’s a journey that will wait till tomorrow? Because tonight is a time for adoration; it’s our moment to come to the manger and gaze upon this “Child of Light” who lies sleeping there while angels keep glad watch from above. Tonight is our night to be as the shepherds who were compelled to come and see what God has done; tonight is our time to be as the magi, bringing the child our gifts of the heart that pay him homage. Tomorrow the journey begins; but on this holy night, we come bringing praise and thanksgiving for the gift we have received of this “Child of Grace;” this little baby boy who with every breath, brings us closer and closer to the Almighty and his love.
Thanks be to God, who by grace and in the fullness of time, has sent his son to us bathed in his glorious light.
Merry Christmas, dear friends.
c. 2016 Rev. Michael W. Lowry