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December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:2-7

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas!


This is a season of traditions,

 and with traditions come memories,

 a taste of that cookie that Grandma used to bake

 takes us back to her kitchen when we were little.


The sound of the hymns

recalls a long gone saint

 who loved to belt out ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’

at the top of their voice,


 the figures of the nativity scene come with memories

 as does the familiar scripture that we hear each year.

We hear “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

 and we settle in

because we know what is coming next,

 the journey to Bethlehem,

 the full inns,

the baby in the manger,

the angels and shepherds,

the Glory to God in the highest heaven.


The traditions and the readings are the same each year,

what changes is the circumstances of our lives,

 and when present reality and past memories collide

 it can bring up some strong emotions,

whether it is because of what we’re missing this year,

or what we’ve added

 that has caused us to see our lives or the familiar story in a new way.

Much like looking closely at the poinsettia plant,

 and seeing the flowers at the center for what they really are,

 the heart of the plant.


So I was not surprised to hear from one of my dear friends,

 about her finding herself sobbing

 in the midst of the Christmas Eve service last year.


 It wasn’t the beauty of the music

or even memories of the past that triggered her tears

but of experiencing the story in a new way.

 You see less than two weeks before that Christmas Eve service

 she had given birth to her second daughter,

 a healthy baby girl weighing nearly 10 lbs,

 and as she stood in church holding her newborn,

 listening to the story of Mary giving birth in the stable

she had the thought: “What if Jesus was a 10 lb baby?

And Mary didn’t have an epidural!”

and it was this thought that brought her to tears

the reality of her life highlighted some of the realities of the story

 she hadn’t thought about before.


 It takes Luke four words to tell us that Mary gave birth

 and just one sentence to go from giving birth to a baby in a manger

because there was no room left in,  the inn,


 and while that may be a decision Luke made

to keep the flow of the story going

it leaves a bunch of the practical realities unsaid,

 and it is these unstated realities that I am finding fascinating this year,

 because I think they make the story,

 what God did in Jesus,

all the more astounding.


Admittedly part of my fascination

 is that this Christmas I am preparing to give birth to a child of my own

 and so the more technical aspects of those four words

 are at the forefront of my mind

and as such this year it seems to me that the most fantastic,

 perhaps difficult to believe part of the Christmas story

 is not the angelic chorus and their accurate directions to the shepherds

but that God chose to become incarnate,

 to enter the world in the flesh at all

 because becoming human is so incredibly perilous. 


When we were preparing to welcome our first child,

 my husband and I took one of those expecting parent classes through the hospital

 and while it was good information to have,

the thing that struck me the most was all the ways

 that gestating and giving birth to a child could go wrong,


 each possible scenario and intervention they described

 just seemed to me a fancy way of saying

‘without modern medicine this is a way you could die,

or this is a way you could die,

or this is a way a healthy pregnancy could end horribly’.


Of course they gave the caveat that these were all relatively rare possibilities,

But then went on to remind us

that even if everything goes perfectly,

 the process of giving birth is traumatic for mother and child,

so be sure to take time to recover.


Based on that class

it seems like a miracle that humanity

 let alone individual humans

 survive at all. 


Why, if you could avoid this,

would you choose it?


 God had a choice

and God intentionally chose to become human.


God chose to take the risk,

to go through the trauma of becoming human

because God so desperately loves the humanity God created and called good.


A quirk of humans

is that we prefer to relate to those who have had similar experiences to our own.

we prefer to commiserate with others

who are going through the same thing or something similar,

whether it is a medical diagnosis, a degree program,

or even a season of life,

and we are quick to dismiss others as ‘just not being able to understand’ 


If we have such a hard time relating to other humans,

 how on earth could we ever form a close relationship

with an omniscient, omnipotent, eternal God?


 Because God wanted a more intimate relationship with us

 God chose to become human,

and if God was going to become human,

 God was going to have the full experience from beginning to end,

 no matter how perilous it might be.


God did that for us.

God became incarnate,

 in the flesh,

because that is our reality.


And because God made this choice

 Our God knows what it is to be human, with a body,

a body that gets sick,

a body that can be broken,

 a body that stops working the way it once did,

 a body that frustrates us with its imperfections,

 a body that we take for granted,

 a body that is birthed,

 a body that dies.


We have a God that so dedicated to caring for us,

 who wants to be in relationship with us so greatly

 that God chose the full human experience,

 so that as God walks alongside us,

 through all the seasons of our lives,

God knows what we’re going through

 even and especially the most painfully ordinary parts of life

like being born. 


This great love is what is at the heart of our celebrations and traditions,

 so important, and yet so seemingly ordinary

(babies are born every day after all)

that it needed to be pointed out with an angel chorus,

a star, and a prophecy,

all things which are flashy and eye catching

 but serve, like the red bracts (leaves) of the poinsettia,

to point to the main point,

the baby in the manger,

 whose birth took more effort than four words,

whose life and death and life again changed the world. Amen


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