Merry Christmas, everyone! It is a joy to welcome you all to the Inn—a safe place of joy and hope—a place that is yours no matter the journey you are coming off of to be here in this moment tonight. Whether you are here because this is your church home, whether you are here because someone said what a gift it would be if you would come with them; whether you are here because you are home with family and friends and this is the place where you grew up; whether you are new and looking for a church; or whether you are here because this community is your family—welcome, welcome, welcome, and it is a joy to celebrate the birth of our savior with you.
Coming to church today is a choice—just as it is a choice to be with family and friends on Christmas. And like so many things in life, we chose them. However—there are a great many things we do not chose in this life—things that chose us—that just happen. Things that can attempt to divide us, things that can take people away from us, things we must face head on.
In our biblical narrative today, we see a family who ready or not, had no real choice in the matter of their story. The government of the time had a policy of registration and Joseph had no choice but to gather his pregnant fiancé, load up their belongings, and the baby bag in case Mary delivered on their trip, and go.
Can you see it—This vulnerable family of 2.5 making the journey to Joseph’s homeland to be counted in a tax survey. Mary is tired, she is on top of this donkey and the walking pattern is enough to make her both nauseous and uncomfortable. And then there is Joseph. Joseph trusts his fiancé, he trusts the messengers of God who have come to say—be not afraid—and he is contemplating what it will be to raise a baby that is not his own—to marry after having children—to register a family that is not exactly as he had planned even months before. It is hard for them both to not be afraid and they’re doing the best they can.
If their journey together was not already difficult enough and did not already place them in a pretty vulnerable position, I am sure that when Mary’s contractions began, the anxiety became even more pronounced. No one would give them a room—and neither could they quell these labor pains—and so they made do as parents have done for millennia—and they took refuge in a barn, among the animals, and prepared to have this baby. They had no choice.
In this life, we experience many things that we do not have much control over—the diagnoses of a loved one, a lost job, a sudden death—and like a blow to the gut these situations take over and they can paralyze us. And yet—life continues to forge ahead—the world doesn’t stop—we continue to show up and we do the best that we can.
Can you think of something like this in your life?
Christmas offers us a choice—and that choice is to welcome this little baby into the areas of this world—of our life—that feel like a mess. Those places where we feel we have no control, those places where an outcome is grim, those places that have the power to bring us to our knees.
This my beloveds, is the magic of Christmas. It is God coming into our flesh, into our life and into all our situations—the good ones but particularly the messes—and it is our choice to let Him in to be our joy, to be our hope.
When we allow this baby to be born into our darkness, into our vulnerability, we find hope. We find hope in that our hearts become larger, and this light of the world is born into our darkest night.
Choosing to let God be born into our own world, invites us to open our hearts. It invites us to be vulnerable even but for a moment to the light that could pierce our darkness, and it invites us to experience hope. It invites us to embrace the tenderness of a baby—of a God who has joined us in our suffering and in our joys—as one of us.
To live into joy and hope is to step further into our vulnerability—to lay aside the power we have, or do not have, and be in the moment—even in the midst of the pain—even in the midst of Mary’s labor of love—and wait for God’s light to break the darkness. God comes to us at Christmas in the most humble and vulnerable of positions—a baby—susceptible to the problems of this world, to illumine a pathway that invites us to hope.
When we set aside our need to control every bit of this world we share, and we can be present to the Holy One in our midst, we are choosing to open our hearts. We are choosing to put down the world of our making even but for a moment and breath in the holy that surrounds us. To center ourselves in the God who joins us as an infant—even into the chaos of this world. This is our light and our salvation—that we might find him swaddled and laying in a manger—
This new hope is the foundation of a life that rebuilds our hearts. This new hope, this baby, is the enduring strength to our world that when all else seems lost, there God remains, wrapped most humbly and cooing in the manger.
Silent night! holy night! Son of God love's pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face. With the dawn of redeeming grace, the well-loved song goes. It is our choice to let God in, to let down our guard and be at ease, to pick up this baby and be changed by its love—by its radiant beams of his holy face, in the dawn of redeeming grace.
And it is okay to do this, any of it, with some resistance--the faithful can be bored and irritated; the faithful can be grieved and worried. But it is taking these small steps toward this radiant light, toward this baby, that helps us build hope and to see a way out of no way.
This drew in the shepherds, and the wisemen; it certainly drew in Joseph, it drew in pregnant cousin Elizabeth—to behold the radiant child—and it changed all of them—and it can change us, too.
The prophets of old have declared that the one to come will reign with love, that justice will prevail, that rights will be made wrong, that the lowly will be raised high, that oppression will cease, and that abusive power will be toppled—all through the life and death of a baby born in a barn and contained in a feeding trough.
A most humble beginning for the salvation of the world. A most humble beginning for us to grapple with and to behold.
God becoming human invites us to reconsider what we work for in this life. It invites us to consider those things that give us life and sustain us—and lead us on the path of hope. God becoming human and beginning his life in the lowliest and most vulnerable of ways, stands against any idea that the systems of our own making can save us. Jesus being born into a feeding troth reimagines a faith in the God of love who calls us, each of us, to the margins of this world where nativities of hope are coming to fruition all the time, and it is in these nativities we will see our Lord. The steps we take toward this manger, toward this babe wrapped in rags, is the incarnation of hope. It is the journey back to us, back to the beginning of our faith, to the place where God awaits us.
Planting seeds of hope inspire us on this path to God, as much as they enable us to show the love of God to those in our lives. Hope is moot if it isn’t experienced in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds in this world. Hope is our confession, it is our prayer, it is our need, and it is the very feeling our souls long for when the dark nights of this world seem too much for our minds and our hearts to bear.
All these things, the scriptures tell us, Mary pondered in her heart. In this season, love is offered to us through a tender baby laying in a trough, and we are invited to pick it up. We are invited to hold it, to meditate upon it, and pass this hope along knowing that it will never end. Behold the Christ in the manger—and love those who surround your life and carry you in your darkest hour. This mystery changes us, my beloveds, and Christmas invites us to behold this hope, and to ponder it in our hearts.
Merry Christmas, one and all, even in our grief.
Merry Christmas, one and all, even in our doubt.
Merry Christmas, one and all, even as hope begins to take form.
Joy has come, and our hope is refreshed through the act God joining our world—struggles and all—and inviting us to behold him in the manger this and every day. Yes, my beloveds, it is indeed a Merry Christmas.