A Time of Love Incarnate
Nativity from the Church of the Ascension, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem 2007
It was the darkest of days for Mary and Joseph. The scorching heat of the summer had given away to colder winds and sunset now came early ushering in deep, lengthy shadows as they traversed the rocky countryside from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea.
It was not carefree, easy living under the Roman Empire for most people. Mary and Joseph, Jews in the first century, were not given many religious rights under King Herod and they were subject to heavy taxation by the Roman authorities. There was a large disparity between the rich and the poor, and insecure Herod issued a decree to slaughter the lives of the innocent ones. Life was exceedingly demanding in all ways. And here was Mary, unwed, young, and with child.
They needed light. They needed some luminosity and hope that tomorrow was going to be a better day, that, their God had not forgotten them, that God was not silent in their despair and marginalized circumstances.
And when they could not find a place to stay, forcing them to lodge in a musty animal stall, their baby was born. “And what was come into being in him [this baby] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 4-5)
The darkness did not overcome it because this baby was the light of the world, Jesus Christ. You see the story that you’ve come to hear tonight is so much more than just a sweetened sentimental tale that bears repeating once a year. It is the story of life born, infused with desire and the promise of resurrection hope. It is a story of God, and God’s love incarnate in humanity, through Jesus the Christ. It is a story that has meaning each day for your life not just Christmas Eve. It is a story of God reaching directly into your life and shining grace in all your darkest corners.
Our days are threatening right now. Not only is this the darkest time of the year but unbelievable events have entered our lives, very close to home, practically in our backyard so that the degrees of separation are hardly existent. We have questions without answers, or without answers that will satisfy our deepest longing to know and understand the depths of God and our existential nature.
Why does evil exit? Why doesn’t God intervene and stop it? Does God even care? These real questions we bring with us tonight as we revisit the stable of so long ago. Mary and Joseph may have asked those same questions. Even though their faith was strong and their devotedness to God’s call on their lives was palpable, they still had questions. What if? How come? What will become of us?
When asked why my colleague, the Rev. Matt Crebbin of the Newtown Congregational Church didn’t use the United Church of Christ moniker, “God is still speaking” as a sign of hope in a recent interview, pensively, Matt said, ‘because for folks God seems distant and silent right now.’ He said, ‘There are no words. Right now is the time for the ministry of incarnation, and that’s what we’re doing’.[i]
How poignant. He meant that when there are no words that can possibly soothe an aching heart, you can, by your mere presence, be the presence of God to someone who is in need of comfort and hope. Just by being there! Because by your presence, and your kindness you are the face and heart of a loving and very present God.
That is love incarnate.
That is what Christmas is all about, God’s word, promise, and hope becoming one with us in Jesus Christ. And then we, extending Christ’s love to others. “And the word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor says, “By choosing Christ to flesh out the word, God made a lasting decision in favor of incarnation…and it is in our own flesh and blood that the word of God continues to be made known.”[ii]
When you see the outpouring of makeshift memorials in Newtown, the 1,000’s of teddy bears collected, the meals cooked and given, the 100’s gathered for a candlelight vigil you can’t help but see that God is all over the place and good hearts triumph over evil ones. That life, even in dire circumstances goes on, because God favors humanity and chooses life.
God’s love embodied, is what is in that stable in Bethlehem. A newborn cries because God chooses to be with us and God’s greatest desire is for us to carry on in God’s holy name. God’s love is personified in each one of us.
The manger takes on an especially profound meaning this year. Christ ‘fleshes out’ for us a way to live that pleases God and that reflects the divine nature of a just and generous God. The birth of Christ ushers in comfort, redemption and hope.
This tiny Savior-baby is God saying to us, live into your greatest potential. The borning cries of Jesus beckon you to come out of the darkness of your life into a hopeful future and that is what it is all about. A future with hope, God has plans for you. (Jer 31)
So take God’s profound affirmation of love with you tonight out into this world. Be the face and hands of Jesus to others and in that way the stable, the manger, the stars and the angels become a very real and living nativity of the incarnate God, not some simple story told long ago.
Christmas Eve Meditation, 2012
Nativity from Shepherd's Field, Bethlehem, West Bank 2007