The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Christmas Morning 2020
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
In one of her books, author and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of a little girl telling her parents the story of the First Christmas: Then the baby was borned, she says, and do you know who he was? She leans in close and whispers very reverently: The baby was God.
Then she leaped into the air, spun around, and dived into the sofa, covering her head with pillows. As Taylor writes: It was the only proper response to the good news of the Incarnation, and those of us without pillows over our heads may wonder if we really heard it (Mixed Blessings).
We may not have pillows over our heads, but have we really heard the good news of the Incarnation, of Christmas? That God came into the world, no different than our own, with its rough edges and hard and often hectic ways, and no differently than we do: a baby born among many that day and born of woman. After giving birth in the dust, the smell, the dim light and cold of a hay-strewn stable, like all mothers, Mary held her baby tight and counted his little fingers and toes. And like all babies, Jesus wriggled, suckled, and cried, wanting nothing more than to be warm, fed and loved.
Really, it is such an ordinary sign, a baby born among many that day. Maybe that’s why, on that first Christmas, neither Mary or Joseph asked questions, tired as they were, and content enough to gaze upon their newborn child. But the birth of Jesus was also such an extraordinary sign, that they were left speechless at the miracle and the mystery.
At the end of our gospel this morning, we read that Mary treasured all these words in her heart—these words being the story that the shepherds told her about the star, the angels, and the child—her child; how suddenly in their fields stood an angel of the Lord, a multitude of the heavenly host singing Glory to God in the highest! For to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. No sooner had the stars burst forth in praise did a hush fall from them and upon the field of the world. For a moment, though it seemed an eternity, the shepherds were unable to move in the stunned silence of the God-charged atmosphere . . . that is, until one of them felt a holy nudge and said: Let’s go. And so with haste they and their sheep set out under the cloak of night to find the child lying in the manger, their lives—life—having been changed forever.
It is these things that Mary pondered in her heart.
An old Jewish proverb asserts that the story is truer than truth, and also the shortest way home—though mostly we go the long way; for without the journey—our own, Mary’s and Joseph’s, the shepherds, wise men, and even the angels—there would be no story to tell of the wondrous gift of God, this gift of new life that was entrusted to Mary, a poor young peasant girl, this gift of new life that God entrusts to each of us in all of our perfect imperfectness: the Christ child, born deep-down-in-the-heart-of-things, swaddled in our hopes and dreams, and fears and tears.
As all new parents know, after the birth of a baby, everything is new, different and not as before; life will never be the same. All too soon our sweet child of God becomes more like the spawn of Satan, shrieking, not sleeping, and demanding all of our attention. All too soon, we realize that this new life of ours born in the manger of our hearts will face difficulties and trials as it seeks to grow, for the world is uncertain and ambiguous. Sometimes we are afraid, even terrified, like the shepherds were. But like them, and Mary and Joseph, we carry on and get back to work and our everyday lives, but different, changed.
Indeed, God’s people have walked through the chaos of the world to everlasting light. We are a people who tell in the light what we have learned in the dark, because we have been liberated from the darkness of sin and death by new life in Christ: behold, God says, see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: for this day is born to you a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
In those days, Jesus was born into the small and humble things of this world. This day, Jesus is born into our small and humble hearts: in the ordinary, ignored, forgotten, and hidden parts of our lives, there we will find him (Br. James Koester, SSJE). May we, like Mary, treasure and ponder these words and the story of the first Christmas—a story truer than truth—not only the shortest way—but the Way home. The promise of deep new life in Christ is the greatest love story ever told, and the good news of the Incarnation: God with us, Jesus, Emmanuel; God with us, then and now, at the beginning of the story and at its end, Alpha and Omega, always and forever.
When I was growing up, and it was the season of Advent, my father and I would sing the hymn, O Come, all ye Faithful—in Latin!—as he drove me to school. So in closing, from this favorite hymn:
Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning; Jesus, to thee be glory given; Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord. O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.