May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
My spouse is well-known in our families for detesting clutter and for spaces to look nice and neat. In fact, if I even suggest that a colleague, community member, or acquaintenance might drop by to leave something for me, he will immediately begin collecting any of the kids’ dishes that might be laying around, and begin cramming their toys into the toy box, and our coats, boots, and bags into the living room closet. It is important to my spouse to give the impression, as others arrive, that we live a modest and orderly life.
As I contemplate the word arrive, I think about the ways in which we have been and are even now preparing for the arrival of Christ that is upon us. Have we sent our Christmas cards and/or Christmas letters out? Have we completed, at least, the preparatory steps, for the meal which we may be sharing with others tomorrow? Have we consumed the meal for which we gather in order to celebrate the arrival of Christ? Have we participated in work parties, block parties, open houses, and Secret Santa? This past week at Chautauqua Lake Elementary School, the staff and students prepared for the arrival of Christmas with a Holiday Spirit Week: a week during which on every day, a student had the opportunity to show his or her holiday spirit by wearing a specified outfit.
In many Spanish-speaking countries, the arrival of Christ is preceded by a festive celebration called Las Posadas; Las Posadas recounts the journey of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter. Each evening between the 16th of December and the 24th of December, community members follow Joseph and Mary to various “Inns” and enjoy a reception that consists of traditional foods such as tamales in Mexico, or pasteles in Puerto Rico. After midnight, on the 24th, the community gathers for a large feast and party to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. While we have the convenience of 2000 years and many traditions for preparing for Jesus’ arrival, the characters in the narrative of Luke did not.
In the gospel text that Lyra read for us this evening, I am struck by the statement, “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.” There is Joseph (and Mary) registering their citizenship and the time comes for Jesus to arrive. No fanfare, no midwife or community to help Mary through childbirth, not even a crib for a bed, the anonymous songwriter of “Away in the Manger” reminds us. Joseph, I imagine, was the non-anxious presence. After all, he has already listened to an angel in his dream, and has married Mary. While the townspeople conjecture and try to figure out whose baby Mary is carrying, Joseph maintains his righteousness and goes to be counted in the City of David, the city of his ancestors.
Mary, I imagine, was as prepared as one could be when she goes into labor. Even when mother-to-be is scheduled for a c-section or an induction, her body is quite capable of taking over and beginning the childbirth process on its own. I imagine Mary would have found more comfort in a dwelling, rather than a cave that sheltered animals. I am sure she would have liked her community of women to support her through her childbirth, but just as Mary said to Gabriel when he told her that she would conceive, Mary, I imagine, prays once more, “Here I am, a servant of the LORD, let it be with me according to your word.”
Meanwhile, off in the fields, the shepherds are living in the fields and keeping watch. They have not been to Bethlehem or anywhere else to register because shepherds are not people who are worth counting in the eyes of the Roman emperor. Shepherds who are used to fighting off wolves and other predators in order to protect their herds find themselves filled with fear as the presence of God breaks into their existence and claims them as the first to hear of the arrival of Jesus.
As we celebrate Jesus’ arrival more than 2000 years ago, with whom you identify? Are you Joseph? Are you hearing God’s voice calling you to do what is good and right, despite what the world around you might say? Are you Mary? Are you wholly devoted to God? Are you able to say, “May it be to me as you have said.” Are you a shepherd? Are you in a dark field somewhere, diligently working at the task before you, and yet still feeling lost, unworthy, uncounted, and unimportant?
Whoever you identify with, know this: On a night like this, more than 2000 years ago, God broke into this world and came to all of creation in the form of an infant. In a humble town, in a humble dwelling, God showed up. Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and we hear the promise of God, spoken through the prophets:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in deep darkness, on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This promise made to Israel nine hundred years before Jesus was born, in anticipation of the birth of a different king, rang true for those who lived in the world more than 2000 years ago, and it continues to ring true for us who live in the world today. May the great light that is Jesus be present to guide and comfort you. I offer this to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, mother of us all. Amen.