December 9, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire
“Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
There is something incredibly magical about Christmas. And I’m not talking about setting out cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer on Christmas Eve and how they are magically gone in the morning. I don’t mean the magic of talking snowmen like Frosty, either. It’s not even the nostalgia for a snowy white Christmas; the decorated tree; the smells of peppermint, cinnamon and cloves; the glowing lights and the shiny presents, although now we’re getting closer. I mean the childlike wonder and awe in that moment of silence after a congregation finishes singing Silent Night by candlelight. I mean the overpowering flood of emotions of love, gratitude, and joy that comes from hearing that we are loved by God. I am talking about THE Christmas gift himself: Baby Jesus.
Baby Jesus is the God of the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The Nativity Story is a beautiful story for those of us who know it well. But it is also an incredibly strange story to someone hearing it for the first time. I can imagine a person listening to the tale with new ears, “You mean to say that God who is without beginning or end, who created the entire universe and all that exists… that God decided to become a human being? Why? And why would he choose an unmarried, peasant teenager in a backwater town from a weak and oppressed tribe in the Roman Empire for a mother? And a stable with a feeding trough for a bed? Are you kidding me?”
God must enjoy irony.
Or just maybe, God wanted to show us what truly matters. We all know that the birth of Baby Jesus in Bethlehem is the “real” story of Christmas, which has nothing to do with elves in workshops at the North Pole or reindeer with luminous snoots. But does knowing the “real” story change how we live, hope and act toward others?
If the real Christmas story is about God’s Incarnation, what are we supposed to do with that? How should we be changed? I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps there are a few easy places to start.
First, God shows us how to live by example. If the poverty and humility of Jesus’ birth is okay with God, perhaps we can find a way to live in economic simplicity and not fear to give up material wealth, flamboyant consumer mentalities, and no longer be burdened with “things we might use someday.” Instead, we can trust the God who came into the world as a lowly baby, who lived among us, taught love and compassion and service, and who suffered and died on our behalf.
Second, if God chose to be born into a working-class family, rather than into a priest’s family or to royalty, then perhaps all people are considered “good enough” by God. Jesus wasn’t born in the Temple of Jerusalem, nor in a palace where one might expect to find the Messiah King. He wasn’t even born at home in a bed like most people. By his very birth, God shows solidarity with the very least of all people.
Third, in choosing to enter our world and human life God also chose to face human death. We don’t often consider the Crucified Christ at Christmas. In the comedy Talladega Nights, racecar driver Ricky Bobby (played by Will Ferrell) offers a table prayer to “Baby Jesus, in your golden fleece diapers and your tiny, little balled up fists…” His wife objects to him addressing Jesus as a baby, saying “He grew up! He had a beard!” Watch the video clip!
It’s true, this baby Jesus did grow up. He gathered disciples, taught them the truth about God’s power in weakness, and after his crucifixion God raised him from the dead. This resurrection is what gives us hope. This is the same gift we receive at Christmas, not just Easter–the promise of the resurrection. So now all who weep and mourn for loved ones who have died, all who fear death, all who suffer, all of us can stand and face death and say with Saint Paul, “O Death where is your victory? Where is your sting?” The Christ-child born at Bethlehem, the Messiah who was nursed by the teenaged Mary, the Son of God who was welcomed into the world by cattle, sheep and shepherds came to show us how to live in God’s Kingdom both in this life and in the resurrection to come. No greater gift has ever been given. Merry Christmas and God bless you.
Heavenly Father, thank you for entering into our world as one of us. Thank you for sharing our experiences and showing your loving care for us. Thank you for the sacrifice you made on my behalf by going to the cross, and thank you most of all for the hope you have given us in the promise of the resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.