The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
December 24, 2021
On this night, we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, Immanuel. We answer the invitation, “venite adoremus Dominum”, to come and worship the Lord!
This night is filled with a cast of faith-filled, or at least expectant, hearts to receive his coming.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, while knowing full well that she brought God’s Son into the world, was most likely unable to comprehend what lay ahead for her child. There in the stable, she cuddled her little boy, swaddled him and laid him in a manger. She welcomed shepherds and treasured all that was said about her newborn, Jesus.
Joseph, who would be the man whom Jesus would come to know as his earthly father, knew that this child was the Son of God and he had been entrusted to raise him, along with Mary. He had found a place of rest for Mary in the dark of night, he had been by her side in Jesus’ birth, and he would do his part in providing for Jesus’ childhood safety and a good earthly upbringing — not fully understanding what would lay ahead for the three of them. He, along with Mary, welcomed the shepherds and was amazed at what they said about the child who lay there before him in a manger.
An angel, along with a multitude of heavenly hosts, proclaimed the good news about the birth that had just taken place in a stinky cattle stall. From heaven to earth they brought news filled with great joy and praised God, setting in motion the announcement of the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one. The message would stand the test of time, but was not a message that one could keep contained in the beauty of a starlit, peace-filled night.
And then there are the shepherds. They were in the fields watching over their flocks, as usual, when their night exploded. God set off fireworks, so to speak, through the coming of an angel and the multitude of heavenly hosts. The sky lit up over the shepherd’s field. They heard the message delivered by the angel and heavenly hosts singing praise to God. As encouraged by the angel, the shepherds did their own investigation to verify all that they had heard and experienced in their field that night. They went into town and saw for themselves the fulfillment of scripture. They were the best kind of responders to such a display from heaven, for they would not only assess the situation and verify the news, but they would also spread the news of the gift of God that came to earth.
Everything about the God-baby’s birth spoke of the power of God and brought God’s message of good news to a world in need. Jesus wasn’t a baby God – a baby deity needing to grow into the fullness of God. Jesus was the Son of God; and, in the fullness of God, he was born and would dwell on earth.
All the details of his birth had purpose and meaning then, and still do today — an inn with no vacancies, a humble stable, a bed of straw. Nothing surrounding the coming of Jesus in this world should be overlooked—even the bands of cloth in which Jesus was wrapped.
Jeff Peabody writes in a Christmas issue of Christianity Today magazine:
Several years ago, I decided to write a daily Christmas blog post …(and) tackle the theology of Christmas wrapping. I vaguely recalled that some cultures use cloth instead of paper to wrap gifts, which sounded intriguing.
That’s when I first learned about the ancient Japanese art of furoshiki. Feudal lords needed a practical way to bundle their belongings while using the bathhouse, and they displayed their family crests on the outer cloth to identify whose was whose.
Over the centuries, people adapted furoshiki into a beautiful means of presenting gifts. I realized that Jesus came to us in furoshiki, wrapped in cloths.
The practice of swaddling, crosses cultural lines and can be traced to the earliest civilizations.
For centuries, parents believed that wrapping infants tightly in place helped their limbs to grow straighter. Swaddling fell out of fashion in the 18th century, when physicians largely believed the tightness of the binding was not healthy. Babies need to be able to move somewhat freely for natural development.
It was new for me to consider this less pleasant side of swaddling. I can imagine Jesus in that manger, arms and legs straining against the unyielding bonds. What must it be like for a baby — particularly this baby, God incarnate — to be unable to move in any direction?”
I appreciate Jeff’s reflection, but I came to a different conclusion. I didn’t land on God incarnate (in the flesh) being unable to move. I saw how incredible it was that Jesus was not limited by being unable to move. Simply by his holy presence, Jesus would make it possible for those at the stable to encounter the holy, divine, sacred moment of God coming down in an act of love beyond measure (and not actually just for those there 2,000 years ago, but for people of all time).
God’s gift being wrapped up for us, being presented as a beautiful furoshiki, highlights that Jesus understands the bindings of our mind and soul — those bindings that we make ourselves and those that the world puts upon us. We can reach beyond the bindings of our lives and embrace the gift of life in Christ, and discover the beauty of the gift from God.
And now each of us are added to the cast. Yes, that is right! Jesus calls each of us to join him in living our lives. He has come into our “living space” that we might one day enter his “living space”.
Only you can invite the God-Baby to come into your life and only you can tell of your experience of the gift of his presence in your particular life.
As a child, I was always so excited about Christmas (and actually still am). As a child, I couldn’t wait to put the baby Jesus in the manger on the nativity that sat atop the piano in our living room during the Advent season. It was so awesome when that day arrived! And now as an adult, I realize that the excitement I had Christmas morning is one I can have each and every day. I can awaken ready to encounter the God-Baby, my risen Lord each and every day with expectant heart.
What is your story to tell? And to whom will you tell it?