The collect and readings for Christmas Eve may be found here. The appointed gospel is Luke 2:1-20.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
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.” 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. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The shepherds came from their fields that night. They came bathed in the glory of God, surrounded by the sound of angelic voices praising God. They came filled with the hope and expectation of good news and great joy. This is the night of salvation. The shepherds’ coming is a transcendent and heavenly coming.
Not so for Mary. She came by order of Emperor Augustus. Pregnant and unmarried, homeless and silent; she never says a word. She is quiet and introspective. She treasures and ponders. Maybe she treasures the shepherds’ words and the life within her. Maybe she ponders the future – questions, fears, hopes. Maybe she is simply lost, overwhelmed, and awed by everything that has happened to her. We do not know exactly what she treasures and ponders. But we do know that this will be a night of labor, delivery, birth. Compared to the shepherds her coming seems earthier, more human, and more worldly.
Like Mary and the shepherds we who gather on this night come by many different ways and from many different places in life. Some come rejoicing, others grieving. Some come willingly, others unwillingly. Some come to hear the great story, others to sing the hymns. Some come with high expectations, others come with no expectations. We come from many places but we all gather at the same manger. Regardless of how or with what we come God meets us at the manger – the cradle of birth and new life.
This cradle of birth and new life challenges our beliefs about God and our own lives.
- We may believe God is in heaven. But this cradle says God is also on earth.
- We may believe God is out there. But this cradle says God is also with us.
- We may believe in God. But this cradle says God believes in us; choosing to become human and reside in us.
This cradle around which we meet is as much ours as it is Jesus’ cradle. We are as much a part of the Christmas story as are God, Jesus, Mary, the shepherds and angels. This night we gather to celebrate Jesus but God celebrates humanity. This night we remember the birth of Jesus but God says this night is the true birth of humanity.
Jesus is being born this night in all the many places from which we come, the places and circumstances of our lives. He is being born in our joys, celebrations, and successes; in our sorrows, losses, and failures. He is being born in our confusions, doubts, and questions; in our hopes and fears; in our words and in our silence. He is born in times of heavenly transcendence as well as earthly immanence. There is no part of our life in which Jesus is not being born.
So, I wonder, what do you bring to the cradle tonight? How is God being born in you this holy night? To gather around the cradle is to participate in the festival of re-creation. Through Mary we gave Jesus his humanity and tonight he gives us God’s divinity. This very night God says to us, “I have become like you so that you might become like me.” That truth is as real as the sound of a baby’s cry.