Audio Christmas 2019
Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20, Psalm 96
Isaiah 62:6-12, Titus 3:4-7, Luke 2:1-20, Psalm 97
Many of you know we recently had our first grandchild. Elijah. Elijah means, my God is Yahweh. What a wonderful child he is, the cutest and happiest I know. Remember when your baby was born? We all have stories about our baby’s birth, or the day and circumstances of adopting. When we tell those stories we often have a bit of a bias. When I’m with a first-time pregnant mom, I usually talk about how wonderful the births were. But I leave the details of pain, and long labor, and exhaustion for when I’m talking to a well-seasoned mom.
I think the nativity passage from Luke is something like that, the writer has left out a lot of details. Like all the details, no pushing, or pain, no mess, no exhaustion. Except one, one detail. Mary swaddled her baby. Mary wrapped her baby in bands of cloth. Swaddling is an age-old practice of wrapping infants in blankets or similar cloths so that movement of the limbs is tightly restricted. Our kids call swaddling a “baby burrito.” A blanket wrapped snuggly around a baby’s body can resemble the mother’s womb and help soothe a newborn baby. What a lavishing love Mary shows.
I understand why the gospel writer Luke has left out all the other details, it’s not his birth story. It’s Mary’s. Mary would have told us about how uncomfortable she was making that journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was 9 months pregnant, ready at any moment for this birth that was so surprising, so unexpected, so fearfully awesome. Mary would have told us about knocking on the doors of the homes in Bethlehem, small structures, with a room for all the animals to be taken in at night, with a manger, a feeding box for the animals, and a space nearby for the whole family to sleep. Mary would have told us that there were so many people in Bethlehem that she and Joseph had trouble finding someplace to lay down and rest. Mary would have told us about those who finally took them in, let them stay with their animals that were also in for the night.
Mary would have told us that the birth came quickly, much more quickly than she had expected. And that by the time the baby was born she was exhausted, and messy, and nestled in for the night with the animals. Mary would have told us that she knew this child, Mary would have told us that she knew someday her heart would break.
So Mary took what she had, some bands of cloth, and Mary swaddled her baby, her baby Jesus. She wrapped him up, comforted him, nursed him. She held him to herself, she whispered in his ear, she sang to him and she knew, as every mother knows, that her heart was now exposed to the world to be broken.
This was an ordinary birth, a salt of the earth birth, a birth attended by livestock, and people these parents hardly knew. This was an ordinary birth, these were ordinary parents, they didn’t have much, but they had enough; today we may even describe them as poor. Also in attendance were the shepherds, and along with Mary and Joseph they have a front-row seat to welcome the good news of great joy for all the people. You know that shepherds were, well, undesirable. They lived outside all the time, guarding sheep from wolves and thieves, guiding them to suitable pasture. A younger son for whom there was no hope of inheriting the family farm, might become a shepherd, as would a man who for some reason was not suitable for marriage. It was among these that Jesus’ birth was first celebrated.
But the attendance of angels alerts us to the reality that this was also an extraordinary birth, a totally unreasonable, inconceivable, glorious impossible birth. The angels alerted the shepherds to this birth, and they alert us to this birth, and they alert all of creation to this birth. Because not only is there a baby born in Bethlehem, of ordinary people in an ordinary way, but there is a baby born in Bethlehem that changes the world. As Mary held her newly born son, she also holds all possibility, all love, and all creation waits as God’s dream blossoms.
God’s dream for creation is born in Jesus, on that day, on this day, and on each day we choose to follow. Jesus is born in us. God’s dream for us is much like Mary’s dream for her child. God’s dream for us is much like your dream for your child, and those whom you love. And love for a child is a lot like having your heart exposed to the wills of the world. Our hearts break in pain, and our hearts soar with joy, as does God’s, I believe.
God’s dream for us is to love one another, God’s dream for us is to serve one another, God’s dream for us is to forgive one another. We live in a world that is at times messy, hateful, imperfect. We bring our whole self’s to this space, often messy, sometimes hateful, always imperfect. And this baby born in Bethlehem, near a very messy manger, to a very young mother who may not have known much about motherhood, but who wrapped her baby tight and loved him, this baby who is God with us, accepts us with all of our imperfections, and loves us perfectly. We are not unlike Mary and Joseph, searching for a place to be home and give birth. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, all of these, for whom there was no room, find room in Jesus. We find love, a love that is compassionate, and merciful, and just. May we, here at Trinity church, always be a home for those who like the shepherds, have no other home, may we always welcome each one of God’s children home.
This child who arrives in the ordinary way, becomes a home for humanity. This child who arrives in the ordinary way welcomes us home and heals us, puts us back together when we are broken. This child in whom God’s dream is made real, whose birth is impossible and unreasonable. Because remember, it is not for reason that God comes to be with us and all of creation, it is for love.