Thursday, December 24, 2020
I was pregnant with both of my kids for the five years when we lived in Omaha. My husband and I both did quite a bit of traveling within the state of Nebraska and even nationally as we served as Directors for Evangelical Mission with the Nebraska Synod. As you may be aware, the further along in your pregnancy the less it is advisable to fly or even be very far from the hospital where you want to give birth, so for both of our kids, once I was within about a month of my due date, I stopped going any further than 45 minutes to an hour from our hospital on church business, and then two weeks before my due date Rich and I both didn’t go anywhere, period, preparing for the big day.
We know that Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered, when modern-day doctors probably would have forbidden that kind of travel for such a heavily pregnant woman and governments today would have made an exception for women about to give birth. Nazareth and Bethlehem are 95 miles apart – only about an hour and a half by car, but at least a week’s worth of walking or traveling by donkey, especially as you can imagine, for someone heavily pregnant. While we know from the Christmas story that Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home, we have no idea if he or Mary had ever been there before. And we know that apparently, there were no family members to stay with – at least, no family members willing to open their homes to a young couple about to become parents. Perhaps, we might guess, this was because Mary had become pregnant before marrying Joseph, or perhaps there was no real family left, we don’t know. There is no place for them even in the inn, Luke tells us – was there really no one willing to give up their room for a poor woman about to give birth? Or were Mary and Joseph simply not welcome? Whatever the reason, Jesus: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, is laid in a manger – an animal feeding trough – with strips of cloth, not even a proper blanket to keep him warm, in a place strange and unwelcoming to his young yet courageous parents.
I have marveled at hearing the way God speaks to us anew in the familiar scriptures of our faith because of our pandemic situation this year. This very familiar Christmas story this year makes me think about how God has helped me be more content with where I am this year. I love to travel, and it’s been one of the more difficult things for me this year to spend so much time at home. Maybe for some of you like me who have the traveling itch, you think, “Hey, I’d sleep in a barn at this point just to go anywhere new out of my own house, my own town!” The unfamiliar, unexplored places of this world have a lot of appeal. Mary and Joseph’s travels may sound like a welcome adventure from the monotony of quarantine life. For others of you who are more home-bodies anyway, perhaps you are welcoming a more quiet, subdued Christmas season. But all of us, I think, are experiencing the strange and somewhat sad feeling of this year being different – traditions we can’t celebrate as we normally would, family and friends who are missing from our tables and here at church because they cannot travel or simply come into our homes. It is definitely not lost on me that we had to take reservations for our in-person Christmas Eve services this year and then tell people the 4pm service is “full…”. Whether we are where we want to be for Christmas or not, we are all still suffering from a year of feeling like things are out of place – the world is not as it should be, Christmas is not as it should be, this year is not as it should have been! And so we have this important reminder on this holy night, that Joseph and Mary were experiencing a birth not as it should be, surrounded by loving family and friends in a warm and safe home environment, but far away, alone, afraid, in Bethlehem in a stable where for whatever reason, “there was no place for them.”
It is significant, however, that the angels first appear to share the good news that the Messiah, Savior, and Lord was born to shepherds, who are used to sleeping outside and being on the fringes of society. There was never a place for the shepherds in the city of David, they were supposed to stay out and away. Yet Mary and Joseph welcome them to be the first witnesses and visitors to their child laying in the manger. “Do not be afraid,” the angel tells them. “For see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people.” To YOU a child, the Savior, Messiah, and Lord is born. Something clearly changes in the moment that Jesus is born – suddenly, those who have wandered, feeling lost and alone, hear a welcome message of good news for them, that God’s love and salvation includes them. There is a place for them in God.
For all of us who are yearning for something more, for something different, for things to change this Christmas, let us pay attention and hear along with the shepherds and with Mary and Joseph that to YOU, today, the Savior is born. Tonight, we do not simply recall an important past event or heartwarming Christmas story…we boldly hear the good news for us today that Jesus is born to save us even now, to be Lord of our lives even now, to restore what is broken, to give hope and joy to those of us who are afraid, to find a home and a place for us in God when we’re tired of our earthly homes and routines. We can be encouraged that the first witnesses to God becoming flesh among us were lonely, isolated, afraid, and at the very least feeling out of place. Then Christ is born, and that changes everything. The shepherds go to Bethlehem to “See this thing that has taken place” and then go and tell all who will listen to them what they’ve seen and heard. This is our call still today – to go and tell all who will listen of what we have seen and heard of the joy and good news of God for us in Christ especially this year. We are called to reach out to people especially who may feel alone and out of place – to the young parents like Mary and Joseph, to the social outcasts like the shepherds, to any we may have overlooked or neglected – to assure them of God’s good news of great joy for all the people. “To you is born this day a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord!” Amen!