Luke 2:1-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Birth of Jesus In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 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. The Shepherds and the Angels 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord.12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]
15 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 the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
In this scripture, we encounter the main characters that many of us are familiar with. We have our Joseph, we have our angels, our shepherds, and Mary Mother of God.
And what I have been struck most by during this Advent season as I have read these scriptures, is how I, how we must question where we come in. What role we play, what roles we assume.
Who are we? Who am I?
In Joseph we see what it is to blindly trust and obey, even when to do so is in direct opposition to cultural and societal law, to the point of death.
In Mary, we witness someone saying “Here I am Lord. Use me as you will, use me for your glory in fantastical, mind altering, time and earth bending ways. And I will not fear, for I know you are my God”.
With the Angels we are encountered with ceaseless praise. They are joy, peace & hope bringers to the hopeless, to those on the fringes, the dirty, the unclean, the unwanted which
at that time, the shepherds.
The shepherds say, “everyone else says we are unworthy, everyone says we aren’t good enough”. But there is something about this promise that we are hearing coming to fruition, that compels us enough to run and believe that we are in fact worthy to carry this Good news of this promise fulfilled and so we must.
Without fear, and without reservation.
It all seems a little dramatic? A little rich. Me, like Joseph? You like Mary, you a shepherd, you an Angel?
But if I look at this season of my life, I can see clearly that I am falling into a bit of a shepherd season. Only not with the obedient compliant piece that the shepherds exemplify. Just this past October we were blessed to be at a general assembly for PEAR USA. As our network met and voted on different things and discussed issues at hand, there was a need to choose a delegate to the National Mission Committee. I immediately heard the still small voice within say “You”. I immediately pretended to not hear it. I could feel myself internally sweating. I could feel the tension in my gut, I could feel my heart and head arguing back and forth violently. As the Spirit said “you are capable, you are gifted, you are called to this”, my head said “No, I am not worthy. . .
Our ministry journey has been hard this far.
Planting a church is hard.
Life is hard.
If I’m honest I don’t feel capable of anything, so I must not be.”
And the opportunity passed. No one spoke up, and so it was tabled for the next meeting in February.
But God is funny, and God is loving. And a woman whom I had never met came up to me and said “My whole purpose in this meeting was to sit and pray and intercede, and the only thing I heard clearly, was that you were to be our representative. . .”
Kick in the gut times 20,000.
And at the same time, love, such unwavering love, from a God that will not let his children be anything less than what they are made to be.
Why couldn’t I like the shepherds believe I was worthy, that I was capable of something that would be part of the furthering of the kingdom, the telling all of “the Good tidings of great joy”?
Because I am broken. Because I forget. Because I need reminded. And in the community of Christ, there are people like this wonderful woman Cindy Hamilton who enable us to remember with a boldness to speak truth into others lives.
And I look in the mirror as more of a debilitated shepherd than a joy bringer.
Perhaps there have been times this year when you have felt that way. In fact with the current realities and reminders just in this country of our own mortality, and abilities of one person to change the course of events inexplicably, there is no way that all of us have not at one time or another felt sorrow.
Let alone the personal, death of friends, death of family, loss of jobs, ending of relationships. . .
And perhaps like me, you look at the loss, and you look at the heartache, and you want to question what the birth of this baby in Bethlehem 2000 years ago has to do with you. Has to do with me, has to do with us. Who am I in relation to this? Why does it matter?
Yet it becomes dangerously simple if we really look at it. There is a dangerous hope, and a dangerous peace that comes with the birth of this Savior, this one called Christ. Everything is going to change, everything must change. And God begins to bring this plan to fruition with normal, ordinary people. With Mary’s and Josephs and shepherds, even with Merediths, and Nates, and Eleonores.
That’s what it has to do with you, and me, and us.
It is our story too.
Who am I? Part of this story.
I was then, and I am now.
And Mary reminds us in the scripture that we will feel sorrow, that we will feel loss. For I have to imagine that as she “pondered these things in her heart she couldn’t help but recall what this promise meant. She knew from God, and from Angels that she was carrying the Savior. But now people were coming to see him, they were seeking him out, affirming that he was indeed the Son of God. And in the midst of rejoicing, I think her mind had to wander to the dark places this journey would take her. That there would be great joy as she would see her son bring a new order, perform miracles, heal and teach. But she would also be under the cross. She would watch him be ridiculed, beaten, and die. And she would have to spend those two dark nights, awaiting the promise.
I think so.
Sorrow combined with the most immense, intense peace and joy she had ever experienced?
It is almost inconceivable that we might do and experience the same.
But we can.
That is what is so beautiful and chilling about this story we call the Gospel. It is life changing because it is life giving. It is life giving because it takes all our sensibilities and all that we know, and says
“there is a new way, forget what you know, forget what you are, and become who you were made to be.”
I have to refer back to what has been one of the most inspirational sources for me in this Advent season. It might seem a little trite and a little trivial, it’s not Dorothy Day and it’s not Bonhoeffer. But nonetheless its truth rang out to me, as the point of all of this, of everything.
At the end of Eleonore’s Jesus Storybook Bible (one of her many birthday gifts, too many birthday gifts, but that is another blog post (series?) all together)
It says this a paraphrase of John 1:12-13
For anyone who says yes to Jesus
For anyone whole believes what Jesus said
For anyone who will just reach out to take it
Then God will give them this wonderful gift:
To be born into
A whole new life
To be who they really are
Who God always made them to be—
Their own true selves—
God’s dear child.
Because you see the most wonderful thing about this Story is—it’s your story too.
On this Christmas Eve may you reach out and take in a way you haven’t ever before, may you receive in a way like never before and may you truly know yourself as you were made to be, your true self, and may you no longer ask “Who Am I?”
Because you are: God’s dear child.
peace to you,