The Rev. Jeunée Godsey Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church Luke 20: 1-20
Christmas Eve 2017
Tonight is the night we join the shepherds as we come to visit the newborn baby Jesus laying in a manger in Bethlehem. We are invited to join in the awe and wonder the shepherds experienced as we, too, try to grasp the fact that this small, helpless baby, was sung by the angels as The savior, Christ the Lord.
One of the joys I have as a pastor is that I often have the privilege of visiting babies just a few days or even hours after they are born. Those of you who have been around newborn babies know how special that time is.
When I’m invited into the hospital room, usually, the room is hushed because the baby is sleeping or nursing. I gaze with the parents at the new child, all wrapped up in the blue and pink striped hospital blanket. Tiny features, perhaps a shock of hair peeking out from the top. I usually get to hold the baby, and to pray a blessing over the new child. I also ask God’s protection and guidance for the parents and child as they are knit together as a family.
My most recent visit was back in October to see our newest St. Michael’s baby, Brooklyn Marie Ross, who was baptized this morning and played baby Jesus in the pageant earlier this evening.
If you’ve gotten to be around a newborn, you’ve probably had the opportunity to hear the birth story. I’ve heard a lot over the years. Every new baby creates his or her own story. I have three kids of my own… and every story is different.
Sometimes the details are pretty simple. Mom went into labor, used those well-practiced breathing techniques, and a few exhausting hours and 7lbs, 20 inches later, a newborn is being held in her mother’s arms.
Other times, the story is more dramatic. There are sometimes anxious moments when things don’t go as planned. An emergency C-section, or an early delivery laces our rejoicing at new life with prayers for positive outcomes. And sometimes things don’t go as planned.
Other times, the details of the birth story sound more like a comedy or a comedy of errors, …..
The packed bag that was left on top of the car as the couple left for the hospital… The funny quotes from older siblings as they first meet their little brother or sister…. The strange nesting instincts that the new mother experienced right before labor.
I, myself, nine-months pregnant with my first child, gave in to the strange urge to wash, wax and buff the car…. Something I’d never done before in my whole life, only to end up in full labor eight hours later…
Can you imagine all the stories that Mary and Joseph could have told?
Some of them we have written in our Bible, like how the angel Gabriel announced to a surprised teenage girl in Nazareth that she would carry God’s child, or how Joseph was called to his ancestral town of Bethlehem for the census.
Much of the story we just heard tonight. “She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
I’m sure if we were able to ask Mary, she could flesh out some of the details, like what it was like to travel 80 miles by foot and by donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, nine-months pregnant.
She could share how Joseph did at helping attend the birth, when men normally didn’t do such things in that culture.
Joseph could tell about his frustration at trying to find a room for Mary to deliver. He could share his shock and surprise when the shepherds showed up, excitedly telling about the angels who appeared over their fields, announcing the birth of a Savior, and singing “Glory to God in the highest.”
The question I guess we have to ask tonight is, “Why do we keep telling this story?” Most birth stories are only shared within the family, or with a few close friends. And after the child is grown a bit, the birth story doesn’t get shared again all that often.
So why do we share this story over and over, year after year?
Who is this baby in the manger?
What draws us to the stable again this year to gaze at the holy family in hushed quietness as they tend to the needs of the newborn child?
Mary was told when she conceived that this child is Emmanuel, God with us, and that she would name him Jesus, which means “God saves.” The angels announced to the shepherds that this child is the Savior, the Christ, the Messiah for all humankind. This child is not just any baby, this is God himself who has come to save all people.
But why? Why did God come as a human? Why Jesus?
Why would the all-powerful Creator of the Universe enter this world as a helpless, hungry, poor little baby?
In the very best of circumstances, a baby is the sign that a love affair has taken place.
That’s exactly who Jesus is – a sign of God’s love affair with humanity.
God’s love existed even before the world began. The love shared between the persons of the Godhead, the Trinity, overflowed in creation. You know what it’s like when you’re in love. You exude energy, you want to create something… write a love poem, sing a song, bake a cake, make a baby!
God’s love created the world, and God’s love created humanity in God’s own image.
All God has ever wanted from us is love in return, and the hope that his children would grow into the fullness of who he created us to be as his children bearing God’s image.
The problem is, it’s hard to have a long distance love affair.
Over and over, the history of humanity shows that we forget the one who loves us more than any other, and we forget to reflect that love for each other.
It’s hard to stay connected to a Father you can’t see.
But who can resist falling in love with a baby?
God came as a baby to melt our hearts as we peer, with our mind’s eye, into the manger in Bethlehem.
Apparently, it is a well-documented scientific fact that the human reflex to look at a baby, whether person or animal, and go “Aww, how cute!” is apparently that response is hard-wired into our system. Even those without children of their own experience the “Aww – Cute!” response.
Konrad Lorenz conducted studies about this as early as the 1950’s. And more recently, scientific experiments have shown that peering into a baby’s face stimulates areas of the brain associated with positive emotion and pleasure. Such a response is what helps parents bond with their children. It helps ensure protection for the youngest members of society.
God has always loved us. Jesus, as a man, showed us God’s love in tangible ways of healing, caring for the marginalized, and pronouncing forgiveness. Ultimately, Jesus, as a selfless act of God’s love, allowed himself to suffer an unjust death, and in his resurrection, overcame sin and death so all of us could enjoy the fullness of God’s love for eternity.
That’s the hope we can each hold onto. Knowing God’s love is there for us forever means that we can live with hope in the now, no matter what darkness or hardship we face. whether individually or as a society. God’s love working in and through his people, changes hearts and gives us courage to live each day seeking God’s light.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection shows us God’s love for us.
And tonight, the baby Jesus invites us to fall in love with God.
As we ponder the birth story of Jesus again this night, we are invited to come into the stable with shepherds, to experience the awe and wonder of new life. We are invited to reach out, and hold the baby Jesus in our arms of our heart, to look into his face, and to fall in love. As we do so, we begin to feel the tenderness towards God that God has towards us.
As we contemplate loving Jesus this way, isn’t it amazing to think that God sees us with those same eyes of Love? Holding us in his arms? Cooing words of endearment into our ears? Protecting and providing for us?
Maybe tonight, we can begin to tell our own birth stories…The story of How the love of God is being reborn and renewed in our own hearts. Because, no doubt, God wants to delight in telling the birth story about each of us, his beloved children.