A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus
that all the world should be registered.
This was the first registration
and was taken while (Quai-RIHN-ih-us) was governor of Syria.
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea,
to the city of David called Bethlehem,
because he was descended from the house and family of David.
He went to be registered with Mary,
to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son
and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of God stood before them,
and the glory of God shone around them,
and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid; for see—
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David
a Savior, who is the Messiah.
This will be a sign for you:
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing
that has taken place,
which God has made known to us.”
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known what had been told them about this child;
and all who heard it
were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured all these words
and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,
as it had been told them.
The holy Gospel
Christmas Eve, 2014
When I was three months pregnant, at my second prenatal visit on a Friday in March, I had my one and only Doppler screening. I heard Amy’s heartbeat.
It was especially significant because a year earlier I had had a miscarriage.
Those strong heartbeats were so hopeful; maybe this one will make it, I thought.
That evening I received a phone call from my parents who lived in Princeton, New Jersey.
They called to tell me that the next day Dad was going up to Memorial Sloan Kettering for surgery. The word cancer was not uttered but even then I knew what Sloan Kettering specialized in. Cancer.
This week I found my journal for 1985. Five days later, the day after Dad’s surgery, I wrote,
Friday was a confrontation with life, new life, and death. A twelve week old fetus and the uncertain health of 64 year old dad.
Dad died thirteen months later when Amy was seven months old.
At his memorial service at Princeton Quaker Meeting I held my daughter in my arms and reflected on those events that happened on the same day in March, 1985.
Today we celebrate a birth, the birth of a child but also the spiritual birth and journey that each of us is invited on.
Every physical birth takes place in a historical context.
The writer of Luke’s gospel is very deliberate in placing the birth of Jesus in historical context: Emperor Augustus has decreed that a census be taken.
Joseph and Mary had no choice but to return to Bethlehem at a most inconvenient moment, when Mary was due to give birth to her firstborn.
The context of the birth of Jesus reminds us that life and our spiritual journey take place in the context of the messiness and challenges of life. Not necessarily when it is convenient!
We cannot wait around for the moment to pray or become holy or have an awakening.
A cancer diagnosis or a vaginal delivery don’t come scheduled at our convenience.
We cannot wait till a time when we are not busy, we are always busy.
Life and ouur spiritual journey is now, with whatever is going on now.
Life is the womb for our spiritual growth, where our spiritual identity takes root and grows.
The writer of Luke spends a lot of time telling us about the shepherds and the birth announcement they receive from the angels.
Why? Why this metaphor? Why this symbol?
I confess my ignorance of shepherds. But here is my bias:
Shepherds know how to pay attention; always on the alert, day and night, for danger.
Paying attention to the weather and the terrain.
Paying attention to the health of each of their charges.
We can learn from them on how to pay attention.
I could have easily missed the synchronicity and significance of that prenatal visit and phone call happening on the same day.
I am grateful I noticed.
Luke gives his version of the birth of Jesus….many years after it happened.
We all know that as time passes stories change and are embellished or edited.
They take on nuanced meanings to serve the story teller’s agenda.
Luke tells his audience the story of the birth of Jesus, he assigns meaning by dressing up the story. He embellishes it with shepherds and angels and a visit to the manger.
This week I pondered again that Friday when I heard fetal heartbeats and received a phone call. Thirty years later and from the perspective of being over 60, it has taken on a deeper meaning.
What are we to make of the birth of this child, Jesus??
Every birth is a cause for rejoicing…a new life, a new beginning.
Every physical birth is a time for reflection…who is this child? who and what will he/she become?
“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
She, too, would have asked: who is this child? What will he become?
What of the birth of this child, Jesus??
What is this human and divine convergence?
There is more than meets the physical eye.
We all have physical parents, we all have a family of origin. Each of us also has a divine family of origin.
We are created in the image of God. We are all conceived by the Holy Spirit.
We are created for relationship with the Holy. We are earthen vessels that can be transformed by this relationship.
It is so easy to think of this relationship as a one way street, we carry the burden of seeking God and taking responsibility for our spiritual growth and transformation.
With the Christmas story we learn that God is yearning and even needs to enter our world.
God becomes incarnate…in us.
God doesn’t enter our world to save us, as traditional theology has told us for so long.
Rather, there is divine yearning to become human, to share our journey in all its finitude and brokenness.
In the Christmas story we are reminded of our true identity, of the divine possibilities of our lives.
Jesus wants to become like us, entering our own flesh and blood to nurture that tiny “being of light” who now lies swaddled in the manger of our own hearts.
We can’t wrap our minds around all this.
Like Mary, we can only treasure in our hearts what we have experienced and yearn for.
We continue on our journey of faith.
This birth and rebirth is so full of hope and possibility.
In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.
That the messiness, challenges and ordinariness of our lives be the fertile ground of birth and rebirth, we pray:
That we would treasure in our hearts and ponder the events of our lives, we pray:
That the energies of love be harnessed, we pray:
For all who are suffering, grieving and in despair this night, we pray:
For what else do we pray?
Let us name quietly those we carry in our hearts and remember those listed in the book of intentions.
So, we pray in the name of the One who has come to dwell among and within us.
Let us offer one another the peace of Christ.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke