Eve of the Nativity.B.23
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Some might say this year doesn’t feel a lot like Christmas—after all, there is war in the Holy Land. Bethlehem, usually teeming with the faithful this holy night, has cancelled its Christmas festivities. Let’s face it—a lot is going wrong. There’s war in Ukraine and Somalia, climate change, economic upheaval, mass shootings, disinformation and anxiety almost everywhere we look. There’s too much need, too much conflict, too many unsolvable problems—and here we are gathered to hear the Christmas Story, which seems, in the midst of so much madness, to pander to sentimental hearts, offering a brief respite from the realities of life.
But, if this is our point of view, I believe, we would be wrong. The Christmas Story isn’t a fairy tale, designed to entertain and divert our attention from the problems of the world. Instead, it’s a poignant reminder that it is when the world is at its darkest, that we need to be reminded of the promise of Emmanuel—God With Us. The story of the birth of Christ reminds us that God comes to us, not simply in the peaceful, perfect moments of our lives, but in the darkness, in the bleakness, when all seems pointless and lost.
The Incarnation, is a wondrous thing. The Rev. Joe Reynolds refers to it as “the profound intrusion of God’s love into our world.” It comes to us quietly, softly, this holy night, spoken by shepherds, who chanced to hear the song of angels while watching their flocks by night. God comes to us, neither with trumpets blaring nor with armies braced and pitted for a fight. God does not come to us with shouts of triumph, but in the stillness of a holy night with the cry of a newborn baby. Nothing stopped when Jesus came into our world—not the madness of King Herod, the incursion of the Romans or the wealthy taking advantage of the poor. All of this continued—the world was (and remains) a troubled place…but, make no mistake, in that holy moment, with the birth of our Savior, everything changed. As the hymn by Christina Rosetti proclaims “Love came down at Christmas.”
God entered our world to join us in the messiness—in the tragedies of life in First Century Bethlehem, and in the tragic realities of that same place some two-thousand twenty-three years later. What difference does this make? I will tell you. That difference is Love. Love makes all the difference in the world.
Think about the finest love you have known in your life--whether it is love that comes from friends, parents, family or children. I am certain that this one thing is common to all who have been both a lover as well as the beloved. This is what we understand. Love, if it is real, is not remote. Love doesn’t stand at a distance, hidden by barriers, removed from pain and suffering and therefor impervious to joy and wonder as well. Love, should it be found at all, will always be located right there in the thick of things. What parent, having a sick child, doesn’t respond with care? What friend, refuses to help another in need? What lover fails to respond to their beloved should they find that person in harm’s way? Love goes the distance. Why does the Incarnation—the coming of God in human form—make such splendid sense? Because God is love. God, the lover of humanity comes to earth in the form of a child—for what better way to connect with a world that has gone so terribly far astray than to be present—to experience the fullness of humanity, in all its strength and weakness, in order to redeem us all.
But here is what God does not do. God did not come to earth to fix our problems or the problems we have made. God is neither Santa Clause—nor a vending machine, where we put in our requests and wait to receive those things for which we have asked. Rather, God enters our world to join us in the messiness, to redeem us from sin and death and empower us with the Holy Spirit—to guide us and to love us. God rejoices with us when we are happy, God sorrows with us when we mourn, and God comforts us with the promise of hope when we are faced with tragedy. If we’re sitting in a prison cell, God is sitting there with us. If we’re jumping for joy at the birth of a new baby, God is there as well. If we’re standing on a mountain admiring it’s beauty—God is nodding as if to say “Yep, I made that.” If we’re worried or frightened, exhausted or afraid—God is there. This is what the incarnation means. The incarnation means that God is With Us—in and through all things—whatever or wherever they may be.
In 2016, a hitherto unknown Christmas poem by J.R.R. Tolkien was discovered at a school in Abington, England. Tolkien, best known as the author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, having lived through the madness and destruction of both World War I and World War II, was no stranger to the darkness of the world when wrote these words:
Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword lept from its sheath.
The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.
The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.
Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
In Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard
That was mother of Heaven’s King.
Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.
A blessed and Happy Christmas to you all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.