Throughout Advent, we have traveled the back roads of Israel from Nazareth
to Bethlehem. This seventy-mile journey over rocky, rough terrain, over mountains and through river valleys has brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. We have been waiting. We have been hoping. Peace has guided our hearts. Joy has caused us to dance on the way to Bethlehem. Love has sustained us across four weeks. Tonight our waiting is over.
Two years ago, while traveling on sabbatical with my family in Europe, we were surrounded by beautiful art depicting the life of Christ. No art captured the simplicity and beauty of God’s love in Jesus Christ more than the art of the nativity. One masterpiece after another, in each generation of the church’s art, shows the babe of Bethlehem with Mary. Some show Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and the animals.
Each painting or sculpture captures the hope, peace, joy, and love of the babe of Bethlehem in the colors portraying this mystery of this night. On this night, the angels sing “alleluias” while the world sings “lullabies.” On this night, cynics cease their criticism and unbelievers suspend their disbelief. For, on this night we celebrate a baby being born.
As you look closely at the newborn Jesus, take time. Examine his tiny fingernails, count his little toes, look into his bright eyes, tired from the battle of birthing. Hold him in your arms and say, “This is God in my arms. This is what God decided to look like.” You are looking at the King of the Universe, unable to turn over on his back without help. You are looking a newborn fed by his mother, changed by his father, held in the embrace of poor shepherds and wealthy wise men.
As you look at him, you see the future hope of the world before your eyes. The covenant of God with Moses on Sinai seems distant and “old.” As you look in the eyes of the newborn Christ, you witness a new covenant freshly born. It is a covenant of love, grace, and vulnerability. It is a covenant lit up by life and held in the heart. It is not a covenant divulged in a burning bush and crafted as words on stone tablets. This mystery of God’s incarnation is held in your arms tonight.
Tonight, when we see the baby as God “born among us,” we hope, once again, that war and terror will cease - the wars of the world, especially the war in Iraq. As we look in his eyes, we hope that violence in people’s lives will end. We hope, once again, that baby’s breath and cooing will replace mean-spirited words that roll off sharpened tongues of children who have learned vulgar language before sacred language. Tonight, our “Love-child” brings hope to our world and our lives once again.
It happens like this. Tonight, Jesus is born a baby, once again. He is not a celestial being or a mighty president. He is not a superior warrior, a know-it-all leader, or a mystic healer. He is a baby. And he is a poor baby at that. Tonight, it is important to let the star shine on a real child, not a Hallmark card. He is so real. We need to be real is seeing him, too.
“Legend has it that one Christmas eve long ago, St. Francis of Assisi and his raged followers staged a small nativity play. Gathering their material from the garbage bins of Assisi, they made costumes out of rags and hammered a small manger from old boxes they found. They stuffed “the manger” with hay they found on the streets and into the cradle Francis placed a discarded wooden bambino from some child who had grown tired of playing with it. Later that night, Francis picked up the doll and told the Christmas story. As he spoke about the mystery of the word made flesh, the baby in his arms came to life” (quoted in Barbara Brown Taylor’s Mixed Blessings, Cowley Publications, Boston, MA., 1998, p. 52).
Tonight, look once again to the lowly manger. Speak once again the mystery of his birth. I pray that as you speak of the mystery Jesus will come to life once again in your arms and in your hearts. A miracle is happening before our very eyes. This is how it happens. Alleluia! Amen.
Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church