December 24, 2023 ~ Christmas Eve
Rev. Beckie Sweet
A week ago today, I had the opportunity to hold a newborn baby! Little Carson James was 4 ½ days old that morning, and provided for my wondering eyes all of the wiggles and facial expressions of a newborn trying to figure out if he should continue dreaming or stretch into a more alert state. For those of you who know me well, you know that the feel, the vision, the smell of a newborn in my arms is a source of special delight. It is a holy moment. To embrace the miracle of new life, and to have the opportunity to tell that baby that they are “a precious child of God, created to know and experience love and to bring the blessing of love to others” ~ what a gift! What a Christmas gift!!
WHY? Especially during this season, at the end of 2023, the presence of a newborn baby builds for me a spiritual bridge between that very first Christmas, our present day, and our hopes for the future.
As we come to worship on this Christmas Eve, many of us are still enthralled by the gospel story of the birth of Jesus, the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah. For contrary to expectations, Jesus was not born in a palace, in a temple, or even within the family of a priest. Jesus was born to a young maiden, who had just traveled many miles just prior to her delivery date. Jesus was born in the humblest of settings, vulnerable to any number of newborn risk factors, and without professional medical care. The miracle of infant birth that perseveres against all odds can only be of God’s design.
And the rest of the gospel account, complete with angels and shepherds, is so dramatic and meaningful, that the story is still being told over 2,000 years later. This is a story of divine proportions that is worthy of being passed from generation to generation. This is a story upon which the foundation of saving faith is built. This is the story which will remind us that God sent a savior into the world who relates to, and cares especially about the least among us. This is a STORY!
And there are some among us who care less about the story of Jesus’ birth, and choose to focus more upon the impact of that birth on us today, right where we find ourselves on this holy night. These among us focus on our expressions of faith today. These among us delight in a reason for gathering with our beloveds for a time of celebration and sharing. These among us look upon others wondering how God is working miracles in the humblest of situations even today. This is REALITY for us!
And there are still others among us who look to God’s future with HOPE. Although Jesus came among the human family so long ago, the world that we know today is still being violated with greed, power struggles, violence, prejudice, and the ravaging of creation. Some, when hearing the gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus, hold onto HOPE that God, partnering with those who believe in the Savior’s birth, will make a positive difference for the cause of Christ, the Prince of Peace!
In the midst of such ponderings, folks have asked:
- What good is it to us if the angel announces good news of great joy to the shepherds living in the fields. if that good news is not also announced to us in the night fields of our lives?
- What good is it to us if Jesus is laid in a manger in Bethlehem if he is not also born anew in us and cradled in the manger of our lives?
- What good is it to us if the shepherds go to see this thing that has taken place if we do not also see in our lives this thing that has happened?
- What good is it to us if Mary treasures and ponders how these things can be if we do not also wonder at the mystery and miracle of God-with-us in our time and place and into the future?
I want to find the Holy Child lying in the manger of my life NOW, don’t you? Isn’t that why we worship together on this sacred night each and every year? Isn’t that what we see in the face of a newborn who blesses us at Christmas time, or any time of the year? If you want to know the Child born again, born anew, in your life tonight, look at the manger of your life. What do you see? What manger have your brought here tonight? What is your vessel of love and spirituality?
- Is it a manger of darkness? Tonight it is filled with the Light of Life.
- Is it a manger of confusion and self-doubt? Tonight it is filled with the Wonderful Counselor.
- Is it a manger of weakness and impossibility? Tonight it is filled with the Mighty God.
- Is it a manger of orphanhood? Tonight it is filled with an Eternal and Holy Parent.
- Is it a manger of loneliness and abandonment? Tonight it is filled with the one who said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Is it a manger of cruelty and violence? Tonight it is filled with the Most Gentle One.
- Is it a manger of guilt and regret? Tonight it is filled with the Merciful One.
- Is it a manger of fear and lostness? Tonight it is filled with the Good Shepherd.
- Is it a manger of hunger and poverty? Tonight it is filled with the Bread of Life.
- Is it a manger of thirst and desire? Tonight it is filled with the Cup of Salvation.
- Is it a manger of grief and sorrow? Tonight it is filled with the One who said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
- Is it a manger of death and loss? Tonight it is filled with the Giver of Life!
WE may not be able to be all things to all people. But in the Holy Child, we find all that God knows that we need. Jesus’ manger, our manger, holds all this and more, now and into the future. This is the place where God’s life and our life meet and intersect. Let’s not forget that a manger is a feeding trough. It’s a place where our lives are fed, sustained, and recreated in the midst of our life’s circumstances.
Can THIS child’s birth really change our lives? Well, did your birth or adoption change the lives of your parents and re-create their world? Did the birth or adoption of a child change your life and re-create your world. The response is usually “Yes! And in more wants than one can count and in more ways than could have been anticipated. Whatever the manger of your humanity holds tonight, this night is filled with the sacred, divinity, and all that is holy.
The promise of Christmas, whether we linger in the past, relish the present, or long for the future, is that we will NOT leave here unchanged. It might take us a while to recognize and live into this change, but the promise is trustworthy and true. For unto us is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And that is good news of great joy for all people, in every time, in every place, and in every life ~ for you and for me.
Do not be afraid, world! Christ is born for us. May the feel, the vision, the smell of a newborn in our mangers be a source of special delight. What a Christmas gift!!