Wednesday, May 22
Friday, December 24, 2010|
Christmas Eve - Late
We are Sent into the World
Have you ever wondered – who cut the umbilical cord the night Jesus was born? Was it Joseph, having to make do using his carpenter’s knife? There were certainly no nurses, no attending physicians.
We know from the biblical account that the baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, strips of cloth wrapped tightly around the child – almost mummy like – to keep the baby warm and comforted by the closeness. Did Mary anticipate the birth and bring with her the proper strips of cloth, clean and ready to receive a newborn – or did they have to make do using what was available; cloaks or undergarments.
Thankfully Mary could nurse the baby so that he could be fed and they used clean straw to make a bed in the manger – but when you think about how terribly primitive the whole thing was it is a wonder that it turned out so well for the child and his mother.
Tonight, as we celebrate the promise of hope and peace in our world, the story behind the story causes us to think about the uneven opportunity and unequal distribution of wealth and goods in this world – even today. There are so many places in the world in which children are still delivered in almost the same way that Jesus was delivered 2000+ years ago!
It is true, and seems to have always been true that there are some who enjoy plenty while others starve; some have access to unbelievable wealth while others live in abject poverty. California is awash with too much rain while other places in the southwest have been in severe draught for years. Some live in comfort and security while others cringe in fear for their lives from day to day with war right outside their door in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And in the midst of all this, the glorious message of peace and hope comes to us on this Christmas Eve.
But it is also true that your situation in life can greatly affect your world view. Certainly it is easier for those who are on the side of the positive scale to believe this message than it is for those who suffer from the inequities that exist.
But the message is for all; it is a message of hope and peace in a world that is torn with strife, for people who see no light at the end of the tunnel, to imagine and believe that the light is there and someday they also will see it.
The Christmas message as written in Luke lends itself to reaching out to the underprivileged and to those on the lowest rungs of society.
The Christ did not come into the world as a privileged person. He had no soft, downy mattress to lie on; there was no warm water to bathe him and clean him up after he had been birthed. His mother had no professional assistance at his birth. There was no one to rub Johnson’s Baby oil on him to make him smell sweet and desirable, no one to clean him up and weigh him and wrap him in a clean blanket to present him to his new mother. It is a severe and roughhewn story, this story of the birth of Jesus.
His family was beyond poor, without even the minimal comforts of being in their own home and their own village where neighbors might have been able to lend a hand. How easy then for a person without anything or anyone to identify with him? There was no blazing fire in his house, no turkey or ham or lutefisk in the oven, no cookies, no pudding. Jesus and his parents fall in the category of the underprivileged. But in the arms of Mary lie the hope and promise of peace to the world.
Jesus’ lowly state of birth does not imply that he would be uncomfortable around wealth and status. Remember in Matthew’s account of the birth we are told of the prestigious wise men that came from the East. They were Gentiles, they were entertained by King Herod, and the description infers that they had royal connections. They brought gifts for the child and were led by the star. They paid homage to the child, acknowledging his royal statues. Jesus is king of all, rich or poor.
It is not by chance that the story is told in this way. We celebrate not just the events of that night but even the condition of that first Christmas night. It helps us to put things in perspective. If we have enough, it might prompt us to be thankful and to share what we can with those who have nothing. If we have nothing, or can just barely make do this year, we are reassured by Christ’s presence with us knowing that he has been there, and that because of him, there is the hope that things will get better and he will give us the strength and the courage to bear and survive this.
This Christmas story reminds us that if we want to part of these events, Advent and Christmas, we cannot just sit there like a theater audience and enjoy all the lovely pictures. Instead, we ourselves will be caught up in this action, this reversal of all things; we must become actors on this stage. For this is a play in which each spectator has a part to play, and we cannot hold back. What will our role be? Worshipful shepherds bending the knee, or kings bringing gifts? What is being enacted when Mary becomes the mother of God, when God enters the world in a lowly manger? We cannot come to this manger in the same way that we would approach the cradle of any other child. Something will happen to each of us who decides to come to Christ’s manger. Each of us will have been judged or redeemed before we go away. Each of us will either break down, or come to know that God’s mercy is turned toward us…What does it mean to say such things about the Christ child?...It is God, the Lord and Creator of all things, who becomes so small here, comes to us in a little corner of the world, unremarkable and hidden away, who wants to meet us and be among us first as a helpless, defenseless child. Bonhoeffer.
Henri Nouwen says most emphatically “If you care to believe that you are beloved before you are born, you may suddenly realize that your life is very, very special. You become conscious that you were sent here just for a short time, for 20, 40 or 80 years, to discover and believe that you are a beloved child of God. The length of time doesn’t matter. You are sent into this world to believe in yourself as God’s chosen one and then to help your brothers and sisters know that they are also beloved sons and daughter of God who belong together, no matter what their status. You’re sent into this world to be people of reconciliation. You are sent to heal, to break down walls between you and your neighbors, locally, nationally, and globally. Before all the distinctions, the separations, and the walls built on foundations of fear, there was unity in the mind and heart of God. Out of that unity, you are sent into this world for a little while to claim that you and every other human being belongs to the same God of Love who lives from eternity to eternity, but who came into this world with nothing as a child of poor parents.
The charge then to us from the Gospel this night is to “bring tidings of comfort and joy” to those who have a hard time hearing these words at Christmas, or any time.” And if we are able to do that, then we accomplished more than one can ever imagine. Thanks be to God. Amen