Today is the culmination of Advent’s desire to see the face of God, to experience the meaning of Emmanuel, “God With Us”, to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has come to meet us where we are and to love us as we are. Whether we’re swept away with the holiday spirit or not much interested in shopping or going to the malls, the holy day is here for us to bask in its divine light.
When we think of that first Christmas, we tend to romanticize the idea of being born in a stable and having no crib but a manger—a place from which animals ate grain. We have elaborate and beautiful nativity scenes, much like the one here at the front of church, and that tends to reinforce these idealized notions of what that holy night was like. If we were to update the story, being born in a stable is as romantic and pastoral as being born in a shed behind someone’s garage in a lower middle-class neighborhood. It’s neither appealing nor picturesque.
The shepherds themselves weren’t part of a larger group we tend to see as “the noble poor” either. They were uneducated, rough and tumble characters who smelled of perspiration and animal dung. They lived a life on the fringes of the villages and towns, and were seldom thought of in anything but demeaning terms. Our God made it clear from the beginning that the message of inclusive love and acceptance was not going to be proclaimed to the religious establishment, nor to the upper class. It was to the ones living on the margins of society that the Good News was first proclaimed.
This tells us something important about Christmas. Our God sees deep beneath the surface appearances of life, into the very heart of people and things. It doesn’t matter to God what we wear, where we shop, what our level of education is, or whether we are celebrating Christ’s birth in a vast house on fancy china or having Christmas dinner at McDonald’s drinking from a paper cup.
The message of the angel laid the groundwork for all that Jesus was later to teach: “Fear not” the angel said. God did not send Jesus to intimidate, condemn, frighten or overwhelm us. Had God desired to send a warrior Messiah, He could have done so, and you and I would have been overcome with fear at the onslaught of God’s army, conquering everything in its way. But instead of a mighty earthly leader with political connections and financial resources, he sends a helpless Babe wrapped in rags, sleeping in a barn. Instead of forcing us to bow down in fear, He invites us to stand up in love.
The Gospel of John, which we have just read, describes Jesus as the “light of the world”, a light that the darkness is unable to extinguish. If there is darkness in our hearts or minds this evening, let us allow the light of Christ to enter in and dispel it with love, hope and goodness—at least for this one holy night.
John’s Gospel describes Jesus as the “fullness of God”, so if right now we carry within our heart feelings of inadequacy or insufficiency, let us release those illusions and allow ourselves to see the truth that God’s goodness, grace and strength are filling us, right now, to overflowing—at least for this one holy night.
The same Gospel proclaims to us that the Eternal Word of God descended to earth from the heavenly realm and made His abode with us. If we are feeling alone, frightened, or forsaken tonight, let us choose instead to rest in the belief that Our God has already pitched His tent with us as our friend, our companion on the sometimes rocky road of life, our brother who is always there –at least for this one holy night.
Jesus comes to us and meets us exactly where we are, without judgment, without condemnation, without forcing himself on us. We remember the words of the angel, “Fear not!” We remember that these very words are the ones spoken most often by Jesus in the Gospels. We have for too long lived in fear of so many things, so tonight, in the glow of this holy feast, let us surrender all our fears to the Child who comes to us in the guise of powerlessness, revealing to us the truth that we, too, are born anew this holy night. We are the presence of Christ in the world. And by our gracious acceptance of God’s plan for us, we recognize our divine vocation in this world. At least for this one holy night, if not for the rest of our lives.