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Posted on: December 30th, 2020

by Sr. Doreen, SSJD

Isaiah 9: 2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2: 11-14 Luke 2: 1-20

Artwork is © The Estate of Caroline Hamilton

In the December Saskatchewan Diocesan Church newspaper, Bishop Christopher Harper wrote:

“COVID-19 gave our world a timeout, where we were sent to our rooms to think about what we are doing to the world and to each other. Together we hold Advent and Christmas in our heart and lives.  It is about opening ourselves to what wondrous miracles God is enacting amongst us; for, God is with us.”

 Christmastide in COVID tide – brings with it I believe for all of us startling discoveries, sometimes painful and hard to comprehend and sometimes happy surprises, as well as new insights into the wondrous miracles that God is enacting amongst us, for God is with us. 

Today, beyond the tinsel, the presents, the Christmas trees and sparkling lights, the creche scene, the music, the shopping and spending, the turkeys and the food – and without guests to share in any of this – there is nothing here except acknowledgement of the miracle and mystery of God’s love for us – a Messiah in a manger.

What could be more incongruous, less solemn?  What could be more wonder-filled than this absolute turning of the world on its head?  A tiny, vulnerable infant brings hope, healing, and life to a hopeless, broken and dying world. 

I found myself thinking about a Messiah in a manger as in the creche in the lobby – and the Messiah on the Cross here in the chapel:  the fullness of the wondrous miracle of God’s love for us and for the world.  In the hymn “I Found Him Cradled in a lamp-lit barn, his mother Mary rocked him.  The child was God they hung on a big high cross and the mocked him there …”  Christmas can be likened to a the down payment of God’s love and Good Friday and Easter the fulfilment of God’s love:  the two are held together – and the wondrous miracle of God’s love makes sense only when the two are held together.  This is especially true when today we celebrate the deep love of God as a Messiah in a manger.

In the gospel story for today there are two things that caused me to do what Bishop Christopher referred to:  COVID sending me to my room to think about what we were doing to the world and to each other – while holding Advent and Christmas together because God is with us.

The first were the words “because there was no room in the Inn”

Because there was no room in the inn – a quiet and heart stopping gospel statement:

The front page of the December Journal used the same words in its headline …no place in the inn, a reminder of how many homeless people there are – of the need for affordable housing – of the gap between those of us who have so much and those who have so little.  For me, It was heart stopping and heart distressing  – and in the midst of it I heard whispering in my ear … God is with us …

God comes past the cosy houses, past the busy well-stocked stores, past the hotels and lodges full of holiday revellers, to a cave at the end of a dark street.  There, forgotten and unannounced, in the dark and cold, alone and frightened and helpless, there you’ll find this birth, this child, this refuge family, this holy family. I find it strangely comforting, this manner of God’s coming, off in a dark, cold corner of our own world, or my own self.  Into the mess, the violence, the rape, the drug addiction, the COVID-19 suffering, the injustice, the hatred and abuse, the loneliness and countless other indignities comes the Light of the World.  Into this God chooses to make God’s home with us, to show the depths of God’s love for us.  And in this mess God asks us to make room for the Messiah in a manger.

I have thought how much I am like the innkeeper of the Christmas story.  I believe we are all the innkeeper to whom the Christ comes.  The inn of our personal life is almost always desperately overcrowded.  Our plans, hopes, fears are beyond number, and too often we justify the closing of the gates of our soul.  But if we are prepared to play the innkeeper’s part as that long-ago man may well have played it, we may realize that there is always a place of hospitality for the Christ who searches for his birthing in us.  The cave therefore is always the forgotten place in us, the rejected place, the unseen place, that part of us dismissed as second class.  But the cave is where the Christ is born.  God is still with us.  God is still being born in the mess of a world that seems to have run amuck.  One thing I know for sure:  Divine Love doesn’t give up, ever.  God will always find a place to be born:  as Meister Eckhart said: “what good is it to me if this eternal birth takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself – if I do not give birth to God in my time and my culture?”  I imagine that God waits in anticipated excitement in places and circumstances to be found – to be given birth.  God never gives up, and God will always find a place to be born.

This is what enables me to Rejoice and be glad and to embrace the message in all the readings today:  “This dominion and this peace will grow without end, with David’s throne and realm sustained with justice and fairness, now and forever.  The zeal of our God will accomplish it!  God is coming to rule the earth – to rule the world with justice and its people with truth! “

Our time out has given us time to think and to ponder, and to treasure all these things in our heart.

Sacred infant, all divine, what a mighty love is yours, thus to come from highest bliss down to such a world as this!  How shall we love you, holy hidden Being if we love not the world which you have made?  What can I give you poor as I am, give what I can, give you my heart.  God makes the journey to Bethlehem again and again,  ‘because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you with an everlasting love.

The Second:  And the shepherds said Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.

Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us:  a heart intriguing  and exciting gospel statement:

And with the shepherds we come to see, I come to see …  and see what?   The birth of a Baby?  But such a birth!  We hear and we sing that all authority rests on this child’s shoulders – a Wonderful Counsellor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, a Prince of Peace.  This Messiah in a manager is the Earth-maker, the Pain-bearer, the Life-giver, the Peace-bringer, the Law-giver, the Heart-healer – the binding glue that holds the universe together!   This is the King as a servant.  The Shepherd as a lamb.  The Potter as clay.  This is the lonely, the unloved, the homeless, the forgotten, the marginalized, a refuge family, the hungry …. 

This is Love – and every gentle heart that burns with true desire is lit from eyes that mirror part of that divine love.  This is Alpha – from that Fountain all that is and has been flows; this is Omega – of all things yet to come:  the source, guide and goal of all that is.  Emmanuel – God with us.   A Messiah in the manger.

Bishop Jane Alexander, in her article in the December Edmonton Diocesan newspaper, after commenting on everyone’s experience of COVID-19,  wrote “There is nothing orderly about the story of Christ’s birth or of Mary’s pregnancy, nothing ‘normal or calm’.  So please take comfort from that.  As I reflect on this, I keep being drawn back to the words of Barbara Brown Taylor as she describes Mary’s life-changing “yes” to God.  In ‘Gospel Medicine’ she says that this is now the choice before us:  “You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees.  You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body.”  I love that image, those words.  They make me think – where will I try to smuggle Jesus tomorrow?  And what will it look like?” 

A Messiah in a manger.  To the world – to our very own selves is Jesus given! The very gift of Christmas is our own call to empty ourselves in order to be made pregnant with the Word.  We are responsible for the gift – and our task is to nurture it and love it into life.  Each of us are called to mother-forth the Christ given to us as gift.  We celebrate the wonderful truth that the Word of God, the source of all that is, has a human face, a human heart, and a human love for us that can touch the deepest fibres of our being, bringing us health and healing where wholeness seemed impossible.  This is the gift that the Messiah in a manger holds out to you and to me, to be given or birthed into the circumstances and situations of our own lives and our world.  St. Bernard said “what use is it to us if Christ be born in Bethlehem and not in our own hearts?”   We are called to bring Christ to birth in the world through the way we live with each other.  We too are theotokos – Christ-bearers to the world. 

It is a thrilling and dangerous scheme:  every day we sing the Song of Simeon – but we do not sing the whole prophecy of Simon’s rejoicing and message:  it continues – that the Messiah in a manger will be for the rising and fall of many – we will be a sign of contradiction – and a sword will piece our own hearts also.  But I hear whispering in my ear “God is with us …”

This is what enables me to Rejoice and be glad and to embrace the message in all the readings today:  “This dominion and this peace will grow without end, with David’s throne and realm sustained with justice and fairness, now and forever.  The zeal of our God will accomplish it!  God is coming to rule the earth – to rule the world with justice and its people with truth! “

Our time out has given us time to think and to ponder, and to treasure all these things in our heart.

Sacred infant, all divine, what a mighty love was yours, thus to come from highest bliss down to such a world as this!  How shall we love you, holy hidden Being, if we love not the world which you have made?  God makes the journey to Bethlehem again and again,   “Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you with an everlasting love.”

One thing I know for sure:  “Divine Love doesn’t give up, ever.” God hides in all sorts and many different places, all excited about being found.  A Messiah in a manger: what could be more incongruous, less solemn?  What could be more wonder-filled than this absolute turning of the world on its head.  A tiny, vulnerable infant brings hope, healing, and life to a hopeless, broken and dying world.

And you and I have the choice – we can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no  guarantees.  We can agree to smuggle God into the world inside our own body.  I love that image, those words.  They make me think – where will I try to smuggle Jesus tomorrow?  And what will it look like?