(NOTE: We did a creche service this morning where we read the story of the birth of Jesus and place all the figures on the altar as the story developed.)
Sometimes good things come in small packages. This is the prevailing wisdom of the story of Jesus’ birth which we heard this morning in story and song. It tells us something about the way God works in our world. It also tells us something about the way we should work as well. Simplicity, humility, and vulnerability. Wonder, joy, and love. All of these elements are present in the nativity scene we see before us. They represent a way of being present in our world that is different from the way others tell us we should act if we want to be successful in life. So let’s listen carefully and see what we can learn from the stories we’ve heard.
We begin with visits from angels, who serve as divine messengers in the Bible. If you haven’t noticed, the good news they share is often accompanied by the words “Do not be afraid.” “Greetings, favored one!” The angel said to Mary. “The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid.”
“Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
“Do not be afraid” the angel said to the shepherds. “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.”
If anyone has ever told you that following God’s will is easy—don’t believe them Fear, and a little bit of trepidation, lie in the hearts of those who take a step forward in faith, trusting that God will guide the way. There are times in our lives when we will be called upon to make big decisions that affect us and our loved ones. May the angels remind us that it’s okay to be afraid every once in a while. If we always live our lives in comfort and safety we will never take the bold steps needed to change the world, or at least our little corner of it. So fear and faith go hand in hand. May we remember this wisdom.
Next we turn our attention to Jospeh and Mary who made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that the powers-that-be were bossing everyone around: Quirinius, Herod the Great, and others unnamed in the story. A census was ordered with no consideration of how hard it was for ordinary, working class people to follow this royal decree. And what mother who is nine months pregnant wants to climb on the back of a donkey and ride up and down the hills of Israel?
Yet, in the midst of leaders bossing people around, Joseph and Mary experienced grace. In a town where every inn was booked to capacity, they found a sympathetic innkeeper, eho let them stay in his stable. While it’s not mentioned in the story I’m sure he brought them whatever amenities he could to make their stay more comfortable.
As we think about Mary & Joseph’s journey, we are reminded that when we are experiencing difficult times in our lives, it’s important to keep an eye out for the small graces that also come our way. It’s easy to focus on the bad. It’s much harder to focus on the good, no matter how small it may be. But this kind of perspective will serve us well in life. It reminds us that God works for good in any and all circumstances.
Next we turn to the shepherds who were labeled as unclean because they could not fulfill all the commands of Jewish religious law. After all, sheep aren’t exactly the smartest animals on the face of the earth. They may be cute and sweet, but good shepherds know that even on the Sabbath day there is no time for rest. And so they did what shepherds do: took turns keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Yet, these lowly shepherds became Jesus’ first worshipping community. After their angel visitation out in the countryside, they made a beeline to the city of Bethlehem and found the Holy family there. The shepherds shared the story of their angel encounter with Jospeh and Mary. Their hearts were filled with awe and wonder as they worshipped the newborn king.
Their presence in the stable reminds us that everyone is welcome to worship the Christ child. There is no litmus test for worthiness or faith. All we need is to awaken in our hardened hearts a sense of curiosity regarding the way God works in our world. It really is that simple. So don’t let anyone tell you that you are unclean or unworthy to receive God’s love The Christ child welcomes all, including us, who are also a little rough around the edges.
Our final stop is the mysterious Magi. Who exactly were these well dressed strangers who offered exotic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Many of the songs written about them refer to them as kings. But my take on the subject is that they were most likely ceremonial magicians who were practitioners of Zoroastrianism. This ancient religion included reading the stars for signs of what the future may bring. These stars guided them to the place where Jesus was born. They had to dodge a paranoid Herod the Great who wanted to murder this so-called king. Thankfully, they were smart enough not to tip him off regarding the exact location of where Jesus was born. And they slipped out Bethlehem’s back door so that they would avoid him on the way out of town.
One of the things we learn from the Magi is that their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, were tools of their trade as priests and ceremonial magicians. They were the very best the Magi had to offer the Christ child. These costly gifts helped Joseph and Mary cover the cost of their trip to Bethlehem. They may have also helped Jesus to receive a formal education, either in Jerusalem or nearby Sepphoris. We will never know for sure, since the entire story of the Magi is surrounded by mystery and legend. I think they like it that way!
Perhaps the lesson we learn from them this morning is that we should offer the tools of our various trades as a way to honor Christ’s presence in our lives. If we are in the medical field, may we serve with compassion. If we are in business or politics, may we conduct ourselves ethically. If we are raising children, may we raise them to be humble servants and inspirational leaders. Whatever we do, may we do it well. May the light of Christ shine brightly through us so that others may be drawn to this same light!
Our journey for this morning is done. But we still have so much more to learn. I wish you a blessed Christmas! May the wisdom of the nativity story continue to speak to us as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve! Amen.
Copyright ©2019 by David Eck