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. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
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 that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The birth of a child is never a casual affair. Despite the fact that two hundred and fifty children are born every minute, their arrival always causes a shake-up. For the family who receives the child the joy of the new life in their midst is met with the anxiety and uncertainty about their future. The birth of the child means that their community is given hope, a reminder that the world is oriented toward life, it also means that the world goes on beyond us, a future is possible without us. The entry of a child into the world is never as simple as a birth.
In the ancient world the perils were multiplied. Giving birth to a child was a risk to the one being born and to the mother. Mortality rates were high – the luckiest family would see half their children grow up, but most would see only three or four for every ten they had. Mother’s died almost nearly as often. We sometimes forget how much modern medicine has done, we sometimes let the sterile image of Christmas that we have made for ourselves distract us from one simple fact – the incarnation was risky.
God could have entered the world fully grown, as a divine spirit or as a human being who never had to be born. God could have planned to be born among the wealthy and secure of society, allowing the best chance of survival and of a pain free life. God could have done many things, but God decided to live among the poor. A woman and her husband hardly capable of feeding themselves, a risky birth in a cramped room, life entering in and immediately facing the threat of death.
The beginning of a story sets the stage for its end. Christ’s birth was dangerous, and he lived a dangerous life. He was among the poor, and his ministry was with the poor. It was to a mother whose reputation had been ruined by this pregnancy, and he lived among those of bad reputation – those who people were able to write off as sinners, whores, deadbeats – all those who so-called “righteous” people rejected.
A life on the fringes, this was the life of Christ. The King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, our Wonderful Councilor was given no throne to sit on. Even as Jesus ministered to all people, he showed a particular appreciation for those who went without. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, he removed obstacles to people’s pursuit of livelihood, he opposed anyone who used their power to abuse others. His ministry was to those in need and when necessary against those who created the conditions that led to their need. When the Kingdom broke out, it was among the untouchables of society and religion, when God came near it was a journey from the furthest places of society inward.
The story of Christmas is not a clean story of a child being born without any trouble. Almost from the beginning there were problems. Traveling long miles while pregnant can’t be healthy for mother and child. Whether Jesus was born in a stable, a cave, or a side-room the conditions for his birth were cramped and not ideal. Roman soldiers patrolled constantly, and despite laws limiting their actions against citizens – the only people to police them were themselves – to travel on their routes was to risk meeting one willing to kill, steal, or worse.
Christmas was risky, Christmas was dangerous, Christmas was dark and cold. Jesus, this little child of Mary, came to be with us during a time of oppression and economic instability. Jesus was born into a world of war and of aggression. The advent of God was nearly covered up by the compounded troubles of the world. Shadow encroached on each side, darkness pouring down on the world and leaving all people lost. The world needed hope, it needed life, it needed a savior.
We are no different today. Despite our advancements in medicine, in culture, in society there are a great many evils that would be just as home in the first century as they are now. The poor freeze to death every winter on American streets, and they die of heat stroke in the Summer. Children are taken from families, left to wander in the foster care system, or go to bed hungry. Rulers across the world have taken the easy way of stoking fears in their people, in promoting aggression rather than peace. Herod rules our modern kingdoms, we have let our faith alienate rather than reconcile, we have forgotten service in exchange for the easier path of piety without community.
Jesus is born on the fringe so that we move our eyes away from ourselves. The message of Christmas is that a light breaks out in the darkness of winter, that death and evil have no place in the world to come. Jesus chose to be among us, to be a child and to live a full human life. Jesus did so as a poor person, as someone who would spend their youth fleeing those who would have him killed, a life spent with an empty stomach. Poor, born to a woman the world had decided was unclean, Jesus became fully human by taking on the life of someone who we would often overlook. When we see the poor, do we see Jesus? When we see the needy, do we love them as we would our savior? When we see children suffering, do we adore them as we do this child in this manger?
Christ is born today, the light of salvation shines. We have hope now, hope that endures. The promise that all oppression will cease and our deep darkness end. The light of Christ, the only light that endures from everlasting to everlasting is offered freely to us all. We prepare through Advent and now at Christmas, to receive this light. We must not let it go out, we must not keep it to ourselves, we must spread the light of our Savior. We must seek it on the fringe, shine a light on the troubles of the world, love the Christ child in the needy around us. – Amen