A sermon by Rev Linda Harrison
Christmas Day 2018
Isaiah 9.-2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20
We know the Christmas story so well after hearing it all these years. Besides being very familiar, Luke’s language is extremely sparse. The actual birth scene is but two sentences that do not even center on the birth itself. What most of us remember are the swaddling cloth and the manger. Hear Luke’s words, again.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. …. Do you hear “Away in a Manger” in the background of your mind as the text is read?
How do we experience the brevity of a story after hearing it so often, year after year? Have you ever thought of what Luke has left out? … Let me set the scene …
There is no snow; it is probably not even cold by our standards of a North American winter. It is probably chilly, since the sun has set long ago. The “stable” or “barn” is most likely a natural or hand-hewn cave or a cleft in a rock out-cropping, providing a modicum of shelter for farm animals.
Can you smell this animal shelter? There is cattle excrement and old hay trodden under foot and hoof. There are likely flies and gnats and other insects attracted to barns and barnyard waste. Can you see this young woman, tired and dusty? There is no “birthing bed” and probably not even a birthing stool. She is squatting in the cleanest corner she can find, the cleanest corner of a barn with her back against its hard rough wall. Can you hear her deep primal groaning as she pushes her firstborn child into the world?
Can you feel her fear as she labors for the first time and without the assistance of older female relatives like her mother or older sister? There may be a local woman in attendance, but she is a stranger to our young woman; for all intents and purposes, she is alone doing the greatest physical work any woman can do. Can you see the sweat bead on her forehead; can you feel her muscles strain and ache? With each contraction, her shoulders hunch, her face pulls into a grimace, her leg muscles tighten to support the added strain.
Then, after many hours, a gasp, almost a moaning sigh that is too deep for words, more pregnant with hope and fear than was her formerly swollen belly. … and then silence. Silence … Does your heart skip a beat as you wait with her? Do you hold your breath with her, wondering, fearing … in that nano-second between her gasp and the baby’s first cry? Indiscernible, she whispers, Oh, God, is my baby alive? And then, a rush of relief, the moan that hung in the air turns to sobs of joy; tears mingled with sweat and the mewling of a newborn, all slippery, wet, wrinkled, and red.
Ten fingers. Ten toes. And the cries of an infant.
This is the mystery of our God. In that cry, in the skipped heartbeat, in the gasps and the moans, in the straining and the darkness and loneliness and fear, in the sweat and the stench and the insects, God is born. Mystery dwells here in the most humble and squalid of circumstances. God chooses to enter humanity here, in this way, the most human of ways – in amniotic fluid and sweat, in blood and tears, in the muck, in the precariousness, and in the chaos. Here is Christ.
The Christ of God is born. Emmanuel: God with us.
God among us.
God as one of us.
Blessed be God forever. Amen.