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Isaiah 9:1-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
I love the tradition of the Midnight Mass for Christmas. It is a dark season, cold too, and we spend most of it trying to make it brighter with extra lights, candles, whatever we can. But the darkness of winter should also make us stop and consider the darkness of the world around us, and meeting here and now emphasizes that: but flickering lights are all that stand between us and darkness. That is the human condition, isn’t it? A thin line between life and death, love and hate, light and darkness?
That is the story we just read: a story of what seems to be a flickering light, barely made out in the darkness. This is a story about weakness that triumphs over power. It is a story of simple, everyday people encountering God, who overcomes the might of the world. For this is the great mystery of Christmas: God came to be one of us, to save us through humility and self-giving. As George Herbert put it: “O thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light; Wrapped in nights mantle, stole into a manger.” The light of light, contracted into an infant child.
It is like a reverse Big Bang; where in that the whole of the latent universe, all matter we are told compressed into a small, dense point, which then explodes and becomes the beautiful and terrible expanse we see above us. God the Son, come in Jesus Christ, is the one who created all things, holds them all together, is all in all we are told, and yet that inexpressible, incomprehensible, infinite God chose to compress the divine nature into the small, infinitesimal point of an infant child.
The human parents of Jesus were nobodies, living in a land ruled by a foreign empire. The whole premise of the nativity story is that they have to return to Bethlehem because the emperor forcibly required it, an empire taking a census so these people could be appropriately taxed.
So on their three day journey they went, a poor couple, the young woman Mary in late pregnancy. They found no where to stay on the other side, and so into a stable or likely a cave used for that purpose they went. And Mary had her child, one who is the Messiah, the Savior, the one whom was and is both God and Man and who would save all people.
Weakness and power, light and darkness. These poor people, forced to travel by a foreign government, setting their new child in a feeding trough. Yet, inexplicably, paradoxically, in this moment we see the kingdom of God triumphing over the kingdoms of humanity, weakness triumphing over coercive and violent power. We see light in the darkness.
For this is how God works. His Messiah, our savior, who came to live, minister, die, rise again, and return once more, was not born into power, with kings paying tribute at his birth. No. The light of the world, he who was and is and will ever be Mighty God and Prince of Peace, came as an infant, frail as any other. Kings did not pay tribute, but plain shepherds. He was not set in a golden bed, but a place for animals to feed. God came not to the mighty, but to normal people like you and me.
This is the message of peace, of hope, of love: That God who is light and life and power came into the world as one of us to overcome hatred and violence not with more violence and hatred, but with self-giving love. God came to be one of us. As Esau Mccaulley put it, “He did this so the weak and broken things might feel comfortable approaching the divine.” God came in defiance of expectation, not like the powerful, but like you and me. That is who he is here for: Not the Kings and Queens of human might, but Kings and Queens nonetheless. He was attended by shepherds to show that he is a shepherd, one who loves and cares for and guides his own. That is the message of Christmas:The one who holds all together came to be the shepherd of those who would listen, showing that no matter how dark or broken our lives, he is the healing light, come for us. The message of Christmas is one of Divine Love that when we receive it transforms us so that we too are agents of light and healing.