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. Luke 2: 16-18
I think sometimes we like to picture Christmas as a moment frozen in time. Like our beautiful carved nativity scene that never changes, we imagine the Christmas night to be a perfect, unmoving scene. Jesus as a tiny baby, nestled in the swaddling clothes, tucked into the manger bed, no crying he makes. Mary looks on serenely, Joseph hums a lullaby, all the shepherds bring their praise with their heads quietly bowed. Still. Peaceful. Calm.
Do you know what I mean? Let me give a few examples of “frozen Christmas moments”
The family all trickles in for the holidays and they finally arrive, pause, suspended like a Norman Rockwell painting before digging into that beautiful dinner. Everyone’s hair is neat, all the serving spoons are in the exact right place. Everything glows.
The snow falls and hangs on branches, clinging forever, enchantingly beautiful, never to melt again. (Ok- maybe that one isn’t too convincing this year. It was 75 degrees on Sunday!)
Or- one more frozen scene-
The kids play on the floor joyfully with their new toys, and sharing and caring abound. No one needs any new batteries or struggles with impossible to wrap presents. For a moment it is perfect, happy, still.
I don’t know about you, but my family has never quite been like any of that. We bustle! We hustle! There’s always some little Christmas mishap that breaks the serene façade to reveal that life is much more messy than a frozen scene.
I’ll tell you- as much as I love our calm Christmas hymns and unchangingly perfect nativities, that first Christmas wasn’t a frozen scene either. If you look closely, you’ll see lots of hurrying and scurrying, hustling and bustling going on. Mary and Joseph were scuttling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census when the time came for her to deliver the child. The shepherds hurried to the manger. The wise men take off quickly on a different route because they’re afraid to return to Jerusalem. Joseph takes his family to Egypt to escape Herod and his plot to kill the infant king (a commercial- check back in next Sunday for that one).
But, Jesus didn’t come to be with us to be unchangingly peaceful and calm. He came to be with us as both truly divine and truly human. Jesus experienced hunger, like any other baby he cried when it was time to nurse. He needed his swaddling clothes changed. I’m sure he scratched himself with his tiny nails as babies are so likely to do. Even as an infant, he experienced what it was like to be one of us.
And that, unlikely as it seems, is the miracle of Christmas. Jesus didn’t pretend to be a human- he really was a human. He really was with us!! And that means that he knows what it is like to have real human needs and feel real human pain.
John writes in his gospel that the reason that Jesus was born was love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that all who believe in him might be saved.”
The kind of love that God has for us is not a frozen-in-time idealistically perfect kind of love. It is the kind of love that is perfect even in messiness. It is the kind of love that meets you where you are, even if you feel like your heart is about as messy as an animal’s trough right now. It is the kind of love that shows up in a hospital room. It’s the kind of love that gives you patience with your child, even when you really wish you hadn’t bought the toy with the blaring noises that can’t be turned off. It’s the kind of love that is with you, kids, when your parents do lose their patience! God’s kind of love is is not afraid to get involved, to love recklessly, to risk everything on someone as fragile and imperfect as you!
That is that kind of love that Wendell Berry wrote of when he wrote,
I know that I have life
Only as far as I have love
I have no love
Except it come from Thee
Help me, please, to carry
This candle against the wind.
Tonight, we end our service with Silent Night and light our own candles from the candle that represents the light of Christ. For a brief time, we will have another perfect Christmas moment hanging in suspended time. We bask in the glory of God’s only son. But then, we will snuff out our candles. We will go back into the world and serve as little Christs to one another. But, we carry the inner light of those Christ candles with us.
I once heard of a church that had a sign above the door going out of the sanctuary. Instead of being marked “Exit” it was marked “Servant’s entrance”. And that is what we do- we enter the world as servants of the one true God, carrying our candle against the wind each step of the way. And the infant Jesus? He doesn’t stay frozen at the creche- he goes with you!
May you go out this night into the busy world, filled with God’s passionate, active, and messy love. Amen.
Pastor Kate Costa
St. Luke Lutheran Church