The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Well, 2021 is finally coming to an end…and yet, it seems a bit like deja vu, doesn’t it! My goodness! What a year 2021 has been…on top of 2020…and it seems like 2022 will start off in similar ways!
Wars, rumors of wars, political nonsense, disinformation at every turn, isolation, changes happening so fast around us, and another COVID variant!
It reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray from a few years ago…if you remember that movie, the main character that Bill played was stuck in a loop that repeated his day, the same day, every day…it just so happened to be Groundhog Day!
Friends, it may seem like we are stuck in a loop in our lives, a place that is dark, without hope. Yet, if we do the work, and receive the gift that Christmas offers, of light in the midst of darkness, we can break out of being stuck in this loop.
We have been through a lot these past couple of years, but tonight, here we are, together in some way, whether here in the sanctuary, or on Zoom, Facebook, we have gathered to hear this story again!
With the passing of my mom and so many other things this year, I have been thinking, reminiscing of Christmas cookies, Christmas dinner at my mom’s house, Christmas trees, all of it. This year, many of us have had to ponder on a deeper level what Christmas is about, it’s about something new being birthed…in us and in the world around us. Childbirth isn’t easy, it’s painful…yet, what do we call babies after they’ve arrived? “Little bundles of Joy”. Possibility, mystery, love, struggle, suffering, growth, and presence are all wrapped up into babies.
Babies grow into adulthood through the throes of life. Our faith does as well. Sometimes we have to remember that things are formed in dark places, like the womb. Faith, also is birthed in darkness. And, faith is not about certainty…it is simply believing, deeply, that you are not alone in this world…that there is a God who resides within you and all around you that is with you…a God who entered humanity, became human, in the form of Jesus.
December 25 is not actually Jesus’ birthday. No one really knows when he was born. So, why December 25? It was decided by the early church because it is close to the annual winter solstice.
The winter solstice is also known as the “longest night”. It is the day of the year where it’s darkest the longest.
A mutual friend of mine and Sean Gladding’s, Katrina Harper, posted this on social media last week:
Winter Solstice is the time when ‘the sun stands still’, the shortest day of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, days become shorter from June 21st on, until around December 21st, when the sun seems to rise and set in the same place for a while. Then slowly the sun begins its journey toward the south again, and the days grow longer until the peak of sunlight at the Summer Solstice.
The longest night of the year bears within itself the promise of the return of the light, the ‘rebirth’ of the sun. Thus, the Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the darkness of the womb from which creation arises. We honor the cycles of life, death, and rebirth, the dark night of the soul and the rebirth of new hope and vision. When we move deeper into the darkness instead of avoiding it, we find the gifts the darkness holds. To some, that may mean moving into the shadow aspect of self. What needs to be released, to be brought into the light of our awareness? Even in our darkest moments we can find the seeds of growth and healing within.
The darkness of the long winter nights that culminate in the Winter Solstice is also a time to honor and celebrate the world of the unseen, of dreams, and of intuition. When we cannot see with our physical eyes, we learn to trust the inner vision, the power of insight and inner knowingness. The journey into the darkness prepares the way for celebration: in gratitude we rejoice in the return of the light, the promise of the sun lighting our path, the promise of new beginnings.
The symbolism is great. Throughout history, people and culture have known “dark times”. Times when things are in upheaval. Unless we aren’t paying attention, we must know that we are also in a time of great change and upheaval. And, let’s be honest, all of us go through dark times in our lives. The question is, are we going to try and ignore the darkness, or live into it and grow and find God in the depths of it?
Friends, the reality is that the church has so often preached a message of hope, of joy, of peace, of love, and even a message of Jesus without the darkness that we see around and in us, without struggle…and God is saying to us on the symbolism of this night…to look into the darkness in order to see a candle, a flame, of love…of promise, of relationship, of incarnation…
Into this season, God has called and placed us. We are asked to embrace the dark night, because in the darkness we can learn so much.
In the darkness of Christmas night, there is a great stirring, movements towards hope and something new. There are shepherds seeing and hearing miraculous news while dutifully minding their flocks. There are wise men and women seeking knowledge and growth.
The passage that we read tonight is full of subversive beauty! Caesar August, the Roman emperor was the head of a political cult that set him up to be divine, a savior, the lord, one who didn’t have any failings, a winner at all costs…and he lived in imperial power exacting a census that was a sign of his authority and ability to collect taxes and contribute the wealth of Rome. Yet, Jesus comes to us impoverished, on the run, and in a dirty stable. His coming is announced to a group of outsiders, literally, shepherds and not some great proclamation to the entire empire, this proclamation came from the heavens to a few shepherds and wise men and women so that it can be carried to and for all of creation. Amazing!
Into that dark night, a baby is born. Emmanuel or “God with us”! Jesus, Emmanuel, born to us, humanity. God, entrusting God’s self to us, in darkness, and to a couple of teenagers who were still trying to figure things out! God, who gives hospitality and relationship receives hospitality and relationship. The “uncreated” creator giving over itself to its creation.
Into the night, a small light came on to the scene of history that grew to a blazing fire illuminating hope, peace, grace, friendship to ALL, welcoming the outsider, showing radical hospitality. This Jesus that says he will be with us in the darkness birthing new life and possibility to us and to those around us! This Jesus that reminds us that the church is not the latest program, fad, building, numbers, or whatever but that we are the very body of Christ! We are becoming more and more radiant as we acknowledge the hard and struggle of life, share that life together, and look at each and see the “glory on each face”!
We have opportunity after opportunity to meet God in the darkest places and to grow into people of radiance as we wait for the morning light!
Friends, in this new year, may we walk together in whatever darkness that we are in. May we embrace where we are on this journey together. And, may we look into the darkest nights of our lives for the hope of Christ to be born again in us and around us…and may we proclaim and rejoice in this king, this savior, this lord, this friend to us.