As I write here I think about the night that the world was turned upside down by our God. We seem to have a problem with the Christmas message because it doesn't resonate with how we would have planned the coming of the Savior into the world. How would we have planned it?
First of all, what place would we choose to have the birth of the Savior? My guess is that we would want to provide a very comfortable, almost lush, place where Mary could deliver her child - with all of the best medical attention the world could give. It would be a pleasant place with bright light, soft chairs, and a spacious room where visitors could come. Maybe not a palace but close.
And what about how we would announce the birth. In our day we would certainly use Facebook and Twitter and all the other possibilities through the Internet to alert the world to this great event. And who would we want to be the visitors to the birthplace? Probably the heads of state of the governments of the world who would come to see the newborn Prince of Peace.
But this is where the message of Christmas puts another light on the subject. God chose not a spacious room or palace to see his Son born - he saw the child come into the world in a stable and being placed in a feeding trough for animals. Is this because we know that this child would eventually give us his own Body and Blood for our nourishment? The first visitors to the birthplace were not the high and the mighty but the lowliest citizens of the place in the eyes of others - the shepherds: dirty, unkempt and probably smelling of the animals they cared for. Is this because Jesus was to become the shepherd of us all?
It may be hard for some to comprehend that God could leave behind all the trappings of divinity and come to reside in the vulnerable body of a tiny child. We have a God of surprises and at the birth of Christ the world was turned upside down by our God. We may try to control the feast by our songs and our decorations but what we are witnessing is the weakness of God - a weakness of great and unbounded love for his creation and the human race that he created.
A certain man had difficulty understanding this message of Christmas. He could not comprehend that God would become human to help the likes of us. Each year his wife would ask him to come with her to the Christmas worship service in their church but he stayed home. On one particular Christmas night while his wife was away at church, he heard a loud noise in his barnyard. Investigating, he found a gaggle of geese who seemed to be trying to find a warm place to rest. He thought if he could open the barn door they would go in and get warm. But no matter how hard he tried to coax them into the barn they remained outside somewhat fearful of this human being. He thought: if only I could become a goose for a while I could entice them to enter the barn. Then it hit him: this is exactly what our God did on that first Christmas night. Our God became one of us to entice us to enter into a relationship with him and be freed from our sins and bask in the warmth of his love.
We love the story of the baby Jesus because babies are soft and cuddly and seem to bring out the best in us. But as Jesus grew up, we, too, must grow up in our faith experience. There is a wonderful picture portrayed by different artists of Jesus as a man knocking at a door. The door has no outer handle with which to open it. It is a reminder that Jesus is knocking on the door of our souls but it is up to us to open the door and let him in. Are we ready to let him into our lives?
Many come to church at Christmas time to seek God but the story of Christmas is that God is seeking us. He is reaching out to us; he is knocking at our doors. May this Christmas be the time we answer wholeheartedly to his summons. As we go forward from this Christmas, maybe we can hear something in the words once written by the writer and theologian Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled; when the star in the sky is gone; when the kings and princes are home; when the shepherds are back with their flocks, then the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoners, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers and sisters, to make music in the heart.
May the peace which Jesus brought at his birth reign in your hearts and homes this Christmas season and may we begin the work of Christmas in our world.