Catching the Light of Incarnation
Christmas Eve C-15
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Nativity plays have been part of Christmas celebrations since at least the 12th century. Francis of Assisi is widely credited with having created the first nativity play and living crèche. He hoped to show people what the first Christmas must have really been like.
So, I wonder what did you notice? Do you suppose the first Christmas included ordinary people like us? Since our Christmas gospel this year comes from Luke, most of my questions are about Mary. I wonder did Mary feel foolish? Did conflict with her family, or the constant risk to personal safety, or the threats to her unborn child cause her to lay awake, to doubt her mission, or to wish she had taken the blue pill and not the red pill?
They traveled eighty-five miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. How would you and I manage a trip like that? Joseph walked. While Mary, nine months pregnant, probably rode sidesaddle on a donkey twisting and jerking over every bump in the road.
Once they arrived, I wonder did Mary and Joseph argue about which inn to try? Or about whose fault it was they had no room in crowded Bethlehem so late. I wonder how blessed and full of grace Mary felt that night, in an unfamiliar and unwelcoming city, faced with giving birth in a barn?
What an amazing, challenging and graceful story. God stepped into human clothing, into history and into the world barely without a ripple of notice, without protocol, without pretension, without the most basic of creature comforts. What is shocking is not just that God came, but how God came. The savior of the world is born to a poor peasant woman in an occupied country in an animal stall because they were homeless at the time of his birth.
We can wonder at these things. Scripture only says ‘Mary treasured all the words people said about Jesus and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19).
I confess, for the last couple weeks, as we made preparations for tonight, my mind was caught up with much lesser things. You may have noticed Oliver Polgar played the part of little Lord Jesus. No plastic doll babies for us this year! But I must have asked Kari a dozen times. We have to be sure. Whatever you do, I said, don’t drop the baby! (Thank you to Oliver’s parents, Kate and Mitch for stepping in as Mary and Joseph! Problem solved. And nicely done by the way.)
Don’t drop the baby. About one hundred years after St. Francis, the German catholic priest and physician Angelus Silesius coined the phrase we now often sing at worship, “If in your heart you make a manger for his birth, then God will once again become a child on earth.” This is God’s message to us in the nativity story. At the rail and the font, in scripture and in prayer, and wherever two are three are gathered in his name, we are all midwives to the incarnation of grace God is bringing into being among us. I wonder what will God bring into being in you this year?
The prophet Isaiah of old has said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) The light of God has one purpose—to take on flesh and live in us, through us, and among us. We catch this light simply by standing in it.
The poet and liturgical artist Jan Richardson writes,
I cannot tell you how the light comes.
What I know is that it is more ancient than imagining.
That it travels across an astounding expanse to reach us.
That it loves searching out what is hidden, what is lost, what is forgotten or in peril or in pain.
That it has a fondness for the body, for finding its way toward the flesh, for tracing the edges of form, for shining forth through the eye, the hand, the heart.
I cannot tell you how the light comes, but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way into the deepest dark that enfolds you, though it may seem long ages in coming or arrive in a shape you did not foresee.
And so may we this day turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies to follow the arc it makes.
May we open and open more and open still to the blessed light
(How The Light Comes, Jan Richardson, printed in Circle of Grace, p.59)