Isaiah 9.2-7; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20
And if a ‘regular’ birth can be this miraculous and transformative, how special is this night that we celebrate? What a gift to revel in the reality that the appearance of this little baby will not only transform the world of Mary and Joseph, but will transform all of creation.
But this is only the beginning. It probably wasn’t too long before the shepherds took off, returning to their flocks they likely left behind. Probably wasn’t too long before Mary and Joseph moved on to the next place. While millions of people have flocked to Bethlehem over the last two thousand years, pilgrimaging to this holy place of Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph and Jesus and the shepherds moved on pretty quickly.
The birth was only the beginning. The beginning of ministry, healing and hope. The beginning of a journey of Jesus’ faithfulness that leads to death and resurrection. The beginning of another new way that God comes to us.
Mary and the shepherds seem to get from the very beginning what is happening here. You can see it in the way they react to Jesus.
Mary’s reaction carries a sense of amazement and wonder, as she ponders all these things in her heart. She treasures this night, this moment. This past Sunday we heard Mary’s song of revolution and justice, a song of the world being made right, of all people being brought together. This same Mary who sings such a bold and hopeful song takes time this night to treasure the moment. She teaches us that bold singing and quiet contemplation can be meaningful and both can be most appropriate responses to the coming of Jesus.
As we picture the shepherds on this first Christmas night, we likely think of them either in their fields, being visited by the angels, or at the manger scene, reverently gazing at the baby Jesus. But in reality, the reaction of the shepherds to Jesus and news of him is hurried action. We hear that after the angels leave, the shepherds go with haste to Mary and Joseph, and after they see him that make him known, they proclaim. And as they return to their flocks, they are glorifying and praising God.
The shepherds reaction to Jesus is to get busy, to share the Good News. They are some of the first people to really get the magnitude of what’s happening here, and they immediately starting spreading the hope and joy and love that came that first Christmas.
There is another reaction to Jesus that many of us have probably seen many times without realizing it. During the movie “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, Linus (and his ever present blue blanket) gets on stage to talk about the true meaning of Christmas. He picks up the story as the angels appear to the shepherds. And in the moment when Linus utters the words “do not fear”, he drops that ever present security blanket. His reaction to telling this story, his reaction to Jesus is to take to heart what the message of the angels is. At least for this moment, he is able to let go of something.
We all cling to things that make us feel safe in the face of fear. Often the things we cling to are wonderful – we cling to family and good relationships as we tackle life’s challenges. We cling to helpful prayer practices and good habits that help us keep calm and lower our stress. These good things we cling to are actually our way of connecting with and clinging to God.
However, in our world today, there seems to be much to fear. Fear can be very good for us – it keeps us alive and safe, it causes physiological reactions in our body that prepare to fight or to flee when necessary. But fear is also used to harm in our world today. We are met with rhetoric that is trying to convince us to be concerned, anxious and wary of this candidate or ‘that group of people.’ Fear is used to hold power and influence.
God’s answer to this misuse of fear? We find it in the shepherd’s heeding of the angels proclamation, in Linus’ dropping of his blanket. God reminds us that we need not always fear. Imagine if the shepherds had not listened to those angels, imagine what they would have missed out on.
By letting go of unnecessary fears and clinging to God, Mary and the shepherds were profoundly influenced by Jesus, even as a baby. Still today, Jesus informs what we do and influences our lives. How we react to Jesus this night is as important as basking in the miracle of his birth.
In our reactions and responses to Jesus, the presence of God that has profoundly changed us, changes the world. But, the same as Mary and the shepherds and Linus, we are not expected to be or made to be perfect in the wonder of this night, in the coming of this baby.
Jesus does not come to perfect us, but comes to us already perfect.
Jesus does not come to perfect us, but comes to love us as we are with forgiveness abounding.
Jesus does not come to perfect us, but comes to enliven, encourage, and unleash us onto the world so that God’s kingdom may come.
So as we leave this place tonight, I invite us to wonder, how is this story speaking to us? How are you, how are we being called to react and respond to Jesus this year?