Saturday, December 15, 2012

Isn't There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas is All About?

A Christmas meditation for our friends at camp, at our annual Christmas party.  
"...the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus." Luke 1:30-31
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, 'God with us.' "  Matthew 1:23
Christmas is the celebration of God with us.
We celebrate the birth of God's Son,
of God himself.
But God was with us before that night.

An angel came to Mary,
and told her she would conceive
and give birth to a baby,
and He would be God Himself.
God came into the world,
not on a celebrated night in Bethlehem,
but roughly nine months before,
when He slipped into the womb of an insignificant young girl from Nazareth.

God was with us,
in flesh,
on the earth,
growing quietly in a dark and secret place.
The world may not have known,
but Mary knew.
And those who were closest to Mary knew.
Angels came to Joseph,
and her cousin Elizabeth,
and Elizabeth's husband Zacharias,
and even the unborn baby who was John the Baptist
knew that God was with us.

Fear not, God is with us.
The days passed.
Fear not, God is with us.
The weeks passed.
Fear not, God is with us.
The months passed.
"Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered."  Luke 2:4-6
God did not come unexpectedly.
Mary's days were completed for her to be delivered.
When a woman has carried a baby until that day of completion,
she is not surprised by his arrival.
She may be frightened and weary and excited....
but she is not surprised.
Mary was young and healthy,
but she was also enormously, painfully pregnant,
traveling far from the safety and comfort of her home.
It is likely that she and Joseph hoped beyond hope,
that this baby would see fit to stay put
until they had completed their errand and returned home.
But of course He did not.
The day was upon them,
and nothing would hold it back.
"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."  Luke 2:7
God came into the wide, wide world,
and found there was no room for Him.
A young woman labored and birthed Him
in a tiny cave devoted to sheltering livestock.
She had awaited His arrival,
anticipated the possibility that He would come
somewhere along their journey.
She had carried the swaddling cloths
with her,
just in case.
But there was no room in the inn.
Every bed was filled,
and so the infant was wrapped carefully,
and placed in a feeding trough for safekeeping.

And it was enough.
He was small,
and vulnerable,
and in His humanity,
Like any baby,
He cried,
and nursed,
and slept.
God is with us,
it was enough.

 "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!' "  Luke 2:8-14
I had joked to a few of you ahead of time,
that I would read this passage aloud and say,
"That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown."
Then we could all sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"
with our heads tilted upward,
and shout "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown",
and we'd be done.

And I was of course joking.
It couldn't possibly be that simple.
Or short.

I was thinking of all of you,
as I read through these verses.
I've heard them read and taught so many times
I can't guess the number.
Ideas jump out at me.
I've heard it taught
that God came amidst the busyness of a Roman census,
and how I should be careful not to be too busy
to notice that God has come.
I've heard it taught that God came,
and there was no room for him in the inn,
and how I should be careful
to make room for God in my life.
I have heard it taught
that angels came,
and told their message of great joy to the shepherds,
because the rich important people of the world
weren't listening for their news,
and how I should be careful not to get too rich or important,
lest I miss that good news too.

And the thing is this.
I think that's all hogwash,
and it takes the punch out of a message that is supposed to be good tidings of great joy. 

God is with us.
He chose to come when people were too busy to take much notice,
mainly because that's how people are.
There would never be a time or a place
in all of human history
when people were not wrapped up in their own cares and concerns.
He came at the most inconvenient of times and places,
because that's what our times and places are.
He comes during finals week.
He comes when we have a big move,
or a job deadline.
He comes when the car breaks down.
And He comes when we are at the bedside of a sick loved one.
God is with us.

God is with us.
He chose to come when there was no room for Him.
Because there is never room for Him.
We don't know how to make room,
and so He comes,
and fills whatever space He is given,
even if that space is very small and very dirty.
God is with us.

God is with us.
He chose to split the night sky,
in a certain place,
at a certain time.
Just beneath that split between heaven and earth,
were shepherds keeping watch.
But it could have just as easily been city folks on a rooftop,
or nomads with their camels in the desert.
It could have been men or women,
rich or poor,
young or old,
because the angels' news was for ALL people.
God is with us.
A glorious God that wants to give us peace,
and love for one another.
By being with us.

Dear ones,
I know your lives are busy, and crowded, and complicated.
You are waiting for God to come,
when the dust settles,
when you get things in order.
You are feeling guilty because you want God to come
but you feel as though you haven't made room for Him.
God is with us.
In all of our tight filthy spaces,
God is with us.
And wherever we find ourselves,
He never stops wanting to be with us.
That's what Christmas is all about.