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.
- Luke 2:11 Or the Christ
- Luke 2:13 Gk army
- Luke 2:14 Other ancient authorities read peace, goodwill among people
Here we are again friends. Christmas Eve. What a year we’ve had. I know that for me, this year has been a time of tremendous growth. Experiencing deep growth coming out of a year of birth pains in 2021. As we come to the end of 2022, I love that we read this passage. Really, we read this same passage almost every Christmas Eve. It’s traditional, it’s the Christmas story…and it’s the promise of new birth coming to us in the darkest of nights, the darkest of days.
My dad would read this passage every Christmas Eve…from the King James Version no less. He went to church every Sunday, was a church leader, but this was the only time I really ever remember him reading Scripture. Yet, he did. One thing about my dad, he was pretty consistent!
I don’t know where we all are in our lives as we come to this night…maybe you feel stuck, a place that is dark, without hope. Yet, if we allow the work of new birth to rise within us, 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!
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 was decided by the early church, really our Germanic and Celtic ancestors, because it is close to the annual winter solstice. It was actually a pre-Christian celebration, and our Christian ancestors borrowed a lot from their ancestors because it simply made sense with the story of the incarnation of Christ…which is a story that is also incarnated, birthed within us.
The winter solstice is also known as the “longest night”. It is the day of the year where it’s darkest the longest. It is to remind us of the darkness of life. And also that there is hope, because after the longest night, when it is the most dark, the light shines forth, dawn comes…and we can see what was birthed in the night more clearly.
Uki MacIsaac says this:
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 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! 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”!
One of our German Christian mystics from the 1400’s, Meister Eckhart, says this: “The light is satisfied only in the innermost place, where no one dwells. It is within you even deeper than you are in yourself. It is the ground of simple silence that is motionless in itself. Yet from its stillness, all things move and all things receive their life, that they may live in accordance with this reason (vernunftecliche) and be conformed to it within themselves.”
We have opportunity after opportunity to meet God in the stillness of the night, this night and every night…really every moment in the deepest parts of our lives and in every life. May we lean into the darkest places, the darkest night, and grow into people of radiance as we wait for the morning light!
As we look into the darkest nights of our lives for the hope of Christ to be born again in us and around us…may we proclaim and rejoice in this king, this savior, this lord, this friend to us. And, in this looking in, may we experience the birth of Christ that is happening within us, all of the time. Friends, as we go into the night, here these words from Meister Eckhart:
“This birth which takes place unceasingly in eternity is the very same birth which has taken place within human nature.”
May the joy of the promise of new birth, the story of Christmas, be with you every day, every moment of your life. Amen and Merry Christmas!
2 thoughts on “Darkest Before the Dawn.”
Hi, Rich. May I ask which bible was used for the first passage of the birth of Jesus. It struck me that everyone was “humanized,” something I’d not heard before and which draws me/us into a closer relationship with our faith. It’s not just a story…
Loved this post. Merry Christmas.
Awesome! Thanks! NRSV, updated edition. Merry Christmas!!!