Christmas Eve, December 24, 2019
Babies change us.
I’ll never forget when ours were born. I wept with joy. I felt so inadequate and so afraid. With Rachel, because she was our first. With Danny, because he was whisked off to intensive care right away. And I wondered: “Are we up to the job?” And, truth be told, I still do. One sleepless night that first week, I remember asking Tracey where the grownups had gone. What’s so remarkable about babies is their need. They are signs of hope and new life. But, for a long, long time, they need everything from us. Babies need our constant attention and love. We love them into being.
Babies change us. They cause us to feel new feelings and take on new responsibilities. They also change our families. We must make room for them. From the beginning, a child is a person, who makes demands and thwarts our will. As they find their own voices and begin to mature, their needs become more complicated. Babies change us all. We can imagine what Mary and Joseph must be feeling as they journey toward Bethlehem. Joy because of the birth of their child. But fear also, because Caesar’s decree compels them to travel just as Mary is ready to have the baby. Even today, childbirth is dangerous business. Back then, it was even more so. The demand that they travel, so that they can be counted for the Emperor’s tax, forces them to add to that danger. It puts Mary and the baby at risk.
And, what’s more, when they arrive, there is no room at the inn. Mary goes right into labor. And so, Jesus is born in a stable. He’s born in a simple and borrowed place—depending on the kindness of strangers. He’s born in the ordinary way—with blood and sweat and tears. And, when it’s all finished, Mary looks down at him, exhausted from her labor. She sees her child, nursing at her breast. His need and hunger flood her heart with love.
And then, some shepherds arrive on the scene. They come running with a message of joy. They come with Good News—with the very Best News. They report what the angel told them—how they would find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The shepherds proclaim that he is the Messiah—the Savior, the King. And then, they leave that stable, glorifying God with joyful shouts of praise.
Tonight, brothers and sisters, we too celebrate the birth of Jesus. With the shepherds and the angels, with animals and wise men, with Mary and Joseph and all the faithful in every generation, we too have journeyed to Bethlehem to see God’s Holy Child. Here he is, lying in the manger. Here he is, looking at us with God’s own eyes of love.
When God comes among us, he comes not as a mighty king—but as a defenseless child. Jesus will live and die as one of us. Christmas is the feast of the lowliness and the poverty of God. It’s the feast of quiet, persistent grace that finds us in the middle of the night.
In Jesus, the Word of God becomes speechless. Almighty God lies defenseless in the Crib. Jesus lays aside all privilege and power. He comes to us frail and mortal. He humbles himself to take on our humanity—to overcome all that divides us from each other.
Jesus shows us the true nature of power. If God becomes a child for us, we need to rethink what it means to be strong. Tonight, Jesus places himself at our mercy. God becomes vulnerable. God takes on our flesh. From now on, all God’s plans depend on him. Creation and history are in his tiny hands.
Truly, in the words of the prophet, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who live in a land of deep darkness—on them the light has shined.” Will we see this light and let it change us this year?
Every year, we run with the shepherds to see what God has done. We hear the angels singing God’s new song. And we see the child, poor and in a manger. Out on the edges of town, we see him. In a place made for the animals, we see him. Jesus is born there as our king.
There’s something about God coming to us as a baby that opens our hearts to each other. Christmas is the feast that turns our hearts back to each other. It is the feast of God’s silence, pierced by the hungry cries of a child. For here, tonight, Jesus touches our hearts as no one else can.
Seeing him, we remember all the ways that we are vulnerable too—how we need help and kindness from each other. For, in him, every human being becomes our neighbor, with a direct claim on our love and our assistance. Tonight, heaven and earth are joined, sinners are reconciled, and the Bread of Life is pressed into our hands.
Tonight, we ponder this vision of love.
Tonight, we hasten to his cradle.
We come to Jesus from every family, every language, every people and nation.
We come to behold. We come to worship and adore.
We come to see his Light piercing our darkness. We come to feel his joy.
But it’s not enough to see and feel these things.
We must let him into our hearts.
We must follow where he leads—and let him turn our lives around.
Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love each other. He shows us how. He shows us how to break bread with other sinners—how to share what we have with each other. He shows us how to create flesh-and-blood communities, where we really know each other—where we bear each other’s burdens—where hope triumphs over our fear—and love over our divisions and despair.
It’s been said that Jesus is the reason for the season. And it’s true.
But he is not just the reason for this season. He is the reason for every season.
He is the long-expected Savior.
He is Christ the Lord.
He is God’s own Son, in our flesh, bringing salvation to us all.
Let every heart (every heart) prepare him room.