(A Meditation for Christmas Eve 2019, based on Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 2:1-12)
‘Twas the day before the day before Christmas, and my wife Lisa and I were down at (our local grocery store) Market Basket stocking up on all the food and supplies we were going to need for the holiday; and as you can imagine that place, as one person aptly described it, was “a whole new level of busy!” So busy, in fact, that at one point I actually found myself mired in an immovable grocery cart traffic jam right there between the dairy section and the deli counter!
For the most part, however, everybody was being pretty good-natured about it: there were a lot of “excuse me’s” and “so sorry’s” going around, and people were laughing about how we should each have been issued carts with blinkers and “back-up beeps!” Of course, there were those who were clearly stressed with the whole situation as they struggled to make their way through this morass of shoppers no matter what; and I saw one exhausted young mother who was trying in vain to verbally ride herd on five active children! Not only that, overhead and all around there’s the unmistakable sounds of “Santa Baby, put a sable under the tree for me…” occasionally interrupted by the store manager announcing a “Christmas Special” at the front of the store!
So unable to move for the moment, I’m standing there and taking it all in, realizing that this is truly the “holiday rush” in all its glory and utter chaos; everyone lost in their own Christmas busy-ness, trying to get to their Yuletide celebrations on time and in one piece!
And that’s when I heard it.
Somewhere in all that noise and confusion, as clear as a Christmas bell, I heard the sound of a very young child… singing.
“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear…”
She’s singing with joy, singing in a way like kids do, like nobody’s listening but that doesn’t matter! Immediately I wanted to see where that song was coming from, but the moment was fleeting and by the time I even looked up the song had faded away and the child – whoever she was (!) – was gone. I didn’t even get to hear who the song was being sung for (!) – it was just a tiny little “Happy Birthday” song bursting forth amidst all the noise.
And it occurred to me in that moment that I was in the midst of a parable… and that that crowded grocery store could just as well have been… Bethlehem.
Because on another night long, long ago, in that little backwater town the streets were filled to overflowing with visitors – government mandated visitors, actually – who’d come there to be “registered” for purposes of taxation. Emperor Augustus had actually decreed that everyone should return to their hometowns for this registration, so every home was filled with relatives coming home and every vacancy at every “inn” in town was filled and then some. And in keeping with the Jewish tradition of great hospitality, there were lots of family reunions and banquet celebrations going on all over Bethlehem with all the laughter and conversation and the occasional moments of drama that go along with such gatherings! And this to say nothing of the presence of those Roman “registrars” who’d also come to town… in short, this town that was often considered to be far off the beaten path and “least among the rulers of Judah” had never seen a night as noisy, as busy or as utterly chaotic as this!
It was so busy, in fact, that hardly anyone who was there in the city that night even noticed that out behind one of the inns of Bethlehem – where there’d been “no place” for a young weary couple who had just arrived and she who was expecting a child– out behind this crowded inn, in a dark and damp stable surrounded by the likes of sheep and cows and donkeys (!), the time came for her baby to be born, and Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,” an infant’s cradle fashioned out of what just a few moments before had been the animals’ feeding trough.
Amazing to think of it: that in amidst all of everything else that was happening that night in this “little town of Bethlehem,” a baby was born! But not just any baby, mind you: this baby was “a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord;” a tiny child who represented “good news of great joy for all the people” for this was the long awaited and long-expected Messiah of God’s people Israel.
This is the one whom the prophet Isaiah proclaimed would be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” the one on whose shoulders all authority shall rest and grow continually, the one who shall rule over a kingdom of endless peace, upheld with justice and righteousness “from this time onward and forevermore.” This is the one that the angel Gabriel told Mary would be called the “Son of the Most High;” the child who is, as the angel described him to Joseph, Emmanuel, which means “God Is With Us.” This is the “Word made flesh [that has] lived among us,” (John 1:14) what Paul described to the Hebrews as “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Hebrews 1:3) He is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15); He is the light of the world that enlightens all humanity; He is the bright new morning star; He is love Divine and love incarnate; He is the Messiah; the Christ of Christmas, and the Conqueror of death; He is the way and the truth and the life…
… and …he’s a baby (!); this tiny helpless infant who’s just been born in a manger, of all places.
Amazing to think of it: that on that busy night in Bethlehem, a baby – this divine child who would be named Jesus – was born… and yet, despite the fact there was a bright star shining overhead and, not far away from there, a multitude of the heavenly host was praising God and singing songs of peace on earth and good will amongst all people…
…even then (!), hardly anyone even noticed.
Oh, there were a few: the shepherds, for instance, the ones who had experienced something holy and heavenly that night, and were compelled to go and look for the sign of which they’d been told, and to see this newborn Messiah for themselves. There were the “wise men from the East” who were seeking “the child who has been born king of the Jews” and looked to the stars to guide them to the place of his birth. And surely there were others: perhaps the innkeeper, or the guests at the inn who had boarded their animals in the stable, or maybe the faithful few in the neighborhood who’d heard of this birth and were moved by some Spirit to check it out.
Maybe… but in truth, there weren’t many… at least at first.
Because we also know that in amidst everything else happening that night, there was something else… something that was silent and holy and divine… something almost like a song piercing through the world’s confusion, its darkness and its sin as clearly as love itself… as God himself…
…God in the guise of a child!
And this is why we’re here tonight, why in the middle of all of our celebrations we’ve come away so to visit this little manger to see what has happened and to behold this wonderful, holy child. In the words of the hymn from which we’ve been drawing some inspiration in this season, “O Holy Night,” “Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming, with glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.”
There’s so much going on all around us right now: in our own homes, with our families coming together for the holiday, among our friends and neighbors, most certainly in the world around us. In ways personal, professional, political and ever perplexing, the world keeps on spinning and we stay busy in every sense of the word. But tonight… on this night divine, something wonderful is happening, and we need not only to take notice but also to rejoice…
…because God has come to us and abides with us. God is WITH us… for he is Jesus, our Emmanuel…
…and tonight, by his cradle we stand in love and adoration.
Glory to God in the highest!
And Merry Christmas, dear friends.
Amen and AMEN!
© 2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry