Find the light in the Christmas season
Pastor Jess Felici
New Hope Lutheran Church
It is hard to sit and write about the Joy which comes down from heaven at Christmas when it seems as though the world is reeling with pain. After the events which transpired in Connecticut, thoughts and prayers turned to the ache of parents, teachers and friends whose lives have been forever changed. How do we talk about Christmas and its sometimes sentimental hope at a time like this? How do we proclaim “Noel! Noel!” when the news tells only of bloodshed and violence?
The story of Christ’s birth is not unfamiliar with the darkness of humanity. It is filled with controversy, scandal, and embarrassment. I believe that this is why some of us work so hard to sanitize the story. It’s nothing new, really. For centuries, we’ve told and retold the stories of the birth of God’s Son as though it were a tidy event. We sing of the “silent” night, of a baby who makes no crying, and of lowing cattle. But what do we find if we really take a look at the birth story?
When we read the story in the Gospel of Luke, we hear of a decree which required all the people under Emperor Augustus’ reign to register in their hometowns. Though Joseph was living in Nazareth, he traveled with his very pregnant fiancée to his home place of Bethlehem. After traveling nearly 75 miles by foot in the last trimester of her pregnancy, Mary arrives among the extended family of Joseph. The “inn” that we’ve imagined most of our lives is much less like a “Holiday Inn Express” and much more like the floor of Grandma’s house at the holidays. With everyone traveling to their hometowns for the census, every nook and cranny of family homes were filled with sleeping relatives. When Mary and Joseph arrive, there is no room for them and, apparently, no one was willing to move to create a space.
Amidst all of the inevitable family drama, I imagine that the host of the enormous reunion was uncomfortable at the thought of an unwed woman giving birth in his home. And, so, exhausted and now deep in the throes of labor, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son in a nearby stable. The Son of God was born – not in a hospital with crisp white sheets and the bright glow of fluorescent lights – but in a dark and dirty stable, surrounded by livestock and the lingering stench of manure. There were no nurses or even midwives present at this birth to wrap the sweet baby in a receiving blanket. Instead, his father watched as his mother wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a food trough.
Is it any wonder we try to clean up this story? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born into humanity not as one would expect a king to arrive, but in the lowest, most disgraceful manner. God’s son was born among the stench of cattle and donkeys. Who would believe that the God of Creation would choose such a birth plan? And what significance can such a story have for our lives in the twenty-first century?
Here is why it matters that Jesus was born in such a place, in such a manner:
Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. As God, he could have easily come into the world comfortably, in a well-to-do family, but he chose to take the course of suffering. He came into our world and experienced shame and suffering— not only as an adult, but from his very entrance into our world. He survived the trauma of birth, gasping for his first breath outside of his mother’s womb. It was messy, and loud, and unsanitary – and it was holy.
God did not choose a sparkly, perfect setting to introduce one of the most holy stories in the Story of our faith; God chose ordinary, messy circumstances to which we can all relate. There was the scandal of a pregnant virgin, family drama with no room in the “inn,” the mess of a stable with onlooking cattle and a painful human birth – and, suddenly, there was a Savior. There, in the midst of the broken world, Salvation was born.
This is no less true today. In the midst of our broken and tragic world, Christ is born into our midst. Where love and forgiveness are proclaimed in the face of violence, Christ is born. Where hope is proclaimed in the midst of death, Christ is born. Where the burden of loss and heartache is shared across a nation— there, Christ is born. God does not wait for things to be perfect and tidy to send his Son, but sends his perfect Son into our fractured mess.
Christmas is a hopeful and beautiful time of year: lights sparkle on homes and trees, music pours into every corner of our lives, and cookies appear in abundance. It truly does feel as if a “magic” fills the air. The magic of Christ, our hope and salvation, is born, bringing Good News of God’s love and salvation to all of humanity. But the birth of Jesus Christ speaks to those who struggle to see any joy in this season, too. Jesus was born into the mess and darkness of humanity, so that no one may be left out of the story. No matter how dire our straits, or how dark these months may become for us, the story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that he enters into our mess to pull us closer to God.
Told in its entirety, the birth narrative of Jesus Christ speaks of God’s coming to us; it tells us how nothing can stand in the way of God reaching us, even in the most remote and lonely corners of our lives. It teaches us that even in the wake of events like those in Connecticut, God is present. The hope of the season of Christmas, and of the Christian faith, is to cling to the promise that God enters into our lives offering forgiveness and love. It is a spectacular story. It is one that gives us the ability, even in the wake of such tragedy, to sing of “Noel.” Thanks be to God.
Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.