“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place whileQuirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2: 1 – 7
On May 23rd 1976, I entered this world at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Georgia. As far as I know, my birth was uneventful. There was no bright glow over the hospital. No visit from the rich and famous. No angelic choir singing outside the maternity wing announcing my birth.
For the majority of us, our birth was ordinary. We were the product of two people in love. Our entrance into the world may have been a time of celebration for our parents and a few of their closest friends. But outside that small circle of influence, no one notices that another baby has been born. Our birth was so common that it simply went overlooked.
For others there is the “it is a miracle he/she is alive today” story. The doctor told your parents that you would not survive the birthing process. Somehow you had gotten yourself tangled up in the umbilical cord and you entered the world unconscious. As the nurses gather around praying for your first breath they exclaim, “She is a miracle.” Maybe, you started out as an “accident” but soon became the wonder child.
For most of us birth is the run of the mill another baby has been born story. But for a few “it is a miracle” has been added to the story of their origin. It is these stories that have grandmothers sitting around coffee tables declaring, “God must have created him for a special purpose,” “God must have a plan for her life.”
Two thousand years ago, off center stage a baby was born. In an obscure village on the outskirts of the Roman Empire a fearful teenage mother gives birth to a baby boy. Mary is exhausted but happy. She is concerned but hopeful. It all started nine months earlier with a visit from an angel. Her cousin told her she was carrying something special. Shepherds visit from the field to tell of angelic announcements and heavenly music announcing the birth of the God-child. Most people in the village of Bethlehem that first Christmas saw only another poor baby being born and requiring more tax money to Caesar. Yet, for those leaning toward the light, lamenting for God to come and redeem, they notice he is Emmanuel – God with us. For those longing for the extraordinary, this was no ordinary birth. This would be one of those stories that would have “he is a miracle created for a special purpose” written all over it.
Days later when Jesus is presented to the Lord in the temple, it is prophesied over him, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” (Lk 2:34). We sing, “Mary did you know?” and the answer is “Yes,” she knows. She ponders all these things in her heart. A young Jewish woman is courageous enough to talk back to an angel, courageous enough to accept an unacceptable pregnancy at the risk of an honor killing. Yes, she knows. She knows this is no ordinary birth. When his beginnings are retold it will be said, “God must have a plan for this child.” God eternal she craddles in her arms.
This birth story redefines every other birth story. It makes every ordinary story become extraordinary. Through his life, death, and resurrection it must now be added to each of our stories, “God must have created her for a special purpose,” “God must have a plan for his life.” The birth of Jesus did not come so that things could be made a little better or a little more bearable. God came to redeem us rather than re-establish us. God came to resurrect us rather than reorder us. We spend our days looking to the heavens for a sign while all along heaven has come down. The extraordinary points to the ordinary and says, “See, God is among us!
Mary’s baby is God’s “yes” to the world. Mary’s baby is God’s promise that God has not given up on us. Mary’s baby is God’s reminder that God is for us. With every cry of Mary’s baby, God has joined God-self to our hopes and fears. In this birth story we have God’s promise that God will not stop until each of us has been embraced in God’s love. In the birth of Jesus we discover for ourselves that “he is a miracle,” ‘she is a miracle” has been attached to each of our stories.
Someone may have told you that you were an “accident” but God says, “You were no oops in His eyes.” The circumstances of your parents may have overshadowed your birth but you are here for a purpose. Your birth may include abandonment, hurt, and fear but I am here to tell you that “you were born for such a time as this.” The birth of Jesus redefines every other birth story to include purpose and meaning. On this night we celebrate God reaching out to all humankind. On this night we are reminded that none is written off, none despised, none too strange, too bad to have “God must have a plan for his/her life” attached to their life story.
Two thousand years ago God lit a light in a small obscure, out of the way village. That light is still trying to get our attention. If you miss it you may just miss the whole reason for your existence. Later, this baby born in Bethlehem would grow up and say, “I am the light of the world.” The gospel of John says,” The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1: 5). Your life may be filled with a lot of darkness today. You may be feeling purposeless. You may be living in fear. You may feel that you are wandering in no man’s land. It is for you that Jesus was born. The announcement of his birth was given in the fields of the isolated, the disenfranchised, and the forgotten. God speaks Good News there. God brings joy there. The light shines in that darkness. God sends angels to those who have given up on God. No amount of darkness can put this light out. It is a light that shines our way into eternity.
This evening as you participate in the candle-lighting service let it be a reminder to you and those around you that you will not ignore the light of God’s love, grace, and mercy. As you light your candle from someone else’s let it serve as a reminder that God is with us as we are with others. As you light your candle let it service as a reminder that God is calling you to keep the candle bright in your corner of the world. Amen.