In those days a decree went out from Caesar 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 in the guest room.
Now in that same 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!”
The story we have told tonight is a simple one. Two people, going to their home town, welcome their baby into the world upon their arrival. They run into trouble because there is nowhere to stay, except for alongside animals, with a small food trough acting as their child’s first crib. We cannot relate to some details of the story, we do not have to walk long distances to get to our hometown now that we have interstates. We usually do not find ourselves so lost for options of where to stay that we have to see if the animals have room where they sleep. Most of all, most people today will not give birth in a stable, opting for hospitals and OBGYN’s keeping watch.
The simplicity of this story, aside from those details that make it seem strange to us, allows us to understand it more readily. We all know, from experience or proximity, how the birth of a child is. The rush of emotions everyone feels at this new life entering the world, the peril of making sure everything is set for them to enter safely. For these two parents long ago, much of the emotions were the same, the joy of finally holding the child they had cared for from afar, and the peril of seeing that he lived beyond that first fateful night.
The thing that sets this story apart is something that we know that only Mary and Joseph really knew up to this point. This child, somehow, was the savior of the world. This child was God given flesh, something eternal now wrapped up in something finite. Jesus the Christ, the eternal Word of God, now had come home to humanity. This was not in the grand trapping worthy of a God, but in the small package that is a baby. A mouth without teeth, a head with probably no hair, no attendants or nurses. In that moment when the newborn baby let out their first cry of life, the power by which all creation was spoken into being found only a mother and father to answer its need. The need to be warmed from the cold around him.
I have said many times that for me, the thing that makes Christianity most compelling, the power that we get from coming together and following our God the way we do, is that this God we worship came and became of this world. The world we know as being so messy that we often sit and worry about every little thing, God looked at that and said, “Let me live in that.” God did not choose a time of mass communication or technological ease to enter the world, but did choose a time when the stage was set for something that would make clear forever what the Divine felt about the Mundane. God sought out the poor, and was born to them. God sought out the oppressed, and became one of them. God sought out the unhoused, and started his life homeless. God came down and dwelt among us, and God took on every struggle God could.
At Christmas, and throughout Advent, we sing out an old song, “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” Return, God with us, to be God with us once more. We long to have a visible sign of God’s solidarity with humanity, we want to see Jesus face to face and know that God has faced all the trouble we have and that God cares for us because God knows what it is like. God knows what it is to be hungry, and cold, and sick, and dying, and brokenhearted, and lost, and lonely, and pained in every way. We want to see God and we want to see a comrade in the struggle. Today we celebrate that God came down and was that partner in suffering, and we celebrate that one day Christ will return to once again show solidarity through the rebirth of all creation, into the world it was always meant to be.
Tonight, whether it is for the first time or the hundredth time that we have heard it, we praise God that God cares for us. Tonight, whether as an old friend or someone new, we welcome Christ into our hearts and our lives. Tonight, we will light candles as a testament to the truth that we, the Church, are the light of Christ until he returns in final victory. Tonight, we celebrate the birth of our God into this world, and the salvation we all crave. – Amen.