"There were shepheds in the locality, living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeard to then as the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid. And the angel said to them, 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'"
Think of the lonliness of those shepherds, perhaps even their boredom. Arnet there so many ways that our lives might seem to be routine, pointless- just waiting for something exciting to happen, something that will bring us a new vision of what life can be. Sometimes we have had such a vision, perhaps in a time of silent wondering, perhaps only for a brief moment.
But in such brief moments we are sometimes offered, if even just a glimpse of what unimaginable life is possible. In such moments- as in the experience of those shepherds- something comes to life, some spirit, some hope; as something is born afain into the world that is so strange and new and precious, that not even a cynic or a doubter can laugh, though they might be tempted to weep. Yes, the child born in the night among beasts, the beasts who know nothing of what is happening, only to provide warmth and company to the young family. And nothing is ever the same again.
Those who believe in God can never, in a way, be sure of God again. Once they have seen God in a stable, they can never be sure where the Hold One will appear, or to what lengths God will go in the wild pursuit of humankind.
If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least likely of settings, this birth of a peasant's child in a shleter for animals, then there is no place or time too lowly and earth bound, but that holiness can be present there too. And tis means that we're never safe, that there is no place we can hid fromn God, no place where we are safe fromn the diivine power to break in two and recreate the human geart, because it is just where God seems most helpless, that god is most strong, and just where we least expect the Hold One, that God comes most fully.
An infant in a stable?
Such vulnerability, such risk that night! But it means, for us believers, that God comes to us in such a way that we can always turn down the offer to have our hearts remade, and thereby miss the other ways, besides the stable, that the Son of God might be discovered. God comes to us in the hungry people we do not have to feed, comes to us in the lonely people we do not have comfort, comes to us in all the desperate human need of people everywhere that we are always free to turn our backs upon.
Tha scene in Bethlehem means that God is now at our mercy, not only in the sense of the suffering we can cause the Lord simply by suffering ourselves. Because that is the way love works, and when someone we love suffers, we suffer too, and we would not have it otherwise, because the suffering and love are one, just as it is with God love for us.
The child is born in the night, the exhausted mother, the father;s face clenched like a fist, and nothing is ever the same again.
Our prayer this Christmas might be that all the great poetry of the birth, the angels, the shepherds, the start, the three kings coming out of the night to lay their gifts in the straw, will be not just a sentimental story, but a story that points beyond itself to the very heart of reality. For those who look upon the scene of the Nativity, for those who ponder, what they have seen and heard in that moment of stillness is possibly, just possibly, the hope of the world.
What we feel in our hearts when we look into the stable is the stirring of new life, new courage, new gladness seeking to be born in us, even as he is born, if only we warmly embrace what we see there. Then nothing will ever be the same.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Whereever there is war in this world, where there is pain, whereever ther is lonliness, whereever there is no hope, come, O long expected one, with healing in your wings. Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the magi and the animals adored, be born again.
Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, O Blessed One, with healing in your wings.
Savior, b e born in each of us as we raise our faces to your face, not knownin fully who we are or who you are, knowing only that your lobe is beyond our knowing, and that no other has powere to make us whole. Come, Lord Jesus to each who longs for you, even though we sometimes do not notice your presence. Come into our hearts, quickly! Amen.
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