A meditation based on Luke 2:1-20 preached on Christmas Eve 2015
Christmas isn’t for planners. If you’re one of those people who likes everything written down and scheduled out, you might know this already. The ham needs to go into the oven at this precise time. Start making the mashed potatoes two hours from then.
Try planning your Christmas Day out like that and you’ll see how your plans will begin crumbling apart once the distraction of family, the hullabaloo of children and grandchildren reaching for presents with their names on them. The chaos of ripped and crinkled wrapping paper strewn across the living room floor and flying through the air. It’s in moments like these that we all realize that our Christmas plans mean nothing at all. The only thing that means anything are those moments of pure, unadulterated, unplanned joy. Add all those moments up and what you have is Christmas—the surprise of it all, the marvel on each one of those smiling faces you see, family and friends wrapped around your Christmas tree all together—the wonder of it all. All the stuff no one could ever plan—that’s Christmas.
Is it any wonder, then, that Christmas came first to a few shepherds living out in the fields, far away from the noise and distraction within the city limits of Bethlehem that night? When everyone was going about their lives and responsibilities, too distracted to see anything new among them, that the angels chose to announce their glorious Good News to the still and quiet ones, the attentive ones?
God knows who has ears to hear His coming, and that night, the only ones aware and receptive enough were far away from the noise. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. They were the only ones with their heads up that night. They could see the angels among them. They could notice the signs all around them. Something astir. Something new.
Jesus doesn’t come to us on this night with loud bursts of fanfare. Trumpets. Alleluia choruses. God doesn’t announce his birth from the hills. The Good News of Christmas is big, but it’s not loud. If we’re not careful, we can miss it. We too can be so distracted by the noise all around us, our schedules, our to-do lists, that we will miss what God is really up to.
This Christmas Eve, the Good News is announced to us, but only with angel whispers. We will hear it only if we slow our hearts and minds, and make ourselves available for it. Not only that, though. Just like the shepherds on that holiest of nights, once we hear the news that God has taken on flesh and now dwells among us, we too must make our way to Him. The task of Christmas isn’t only to listen and watch for the signs, but to walk toward them. To draw in close. To set out on a journey to see the One born among us.
Just like the shepherds, we have to look beyond ourselves, up into the night sky, all around us, in others, to see the signs of Christ’s presence among us. Jesus is born somewhere in our midst, but we will have to go searching for him. Not only inside ourselves but even more so, well beyond ourselves. The questions of Christmas are these: Where do we go to encounter the transforming presence of Jesus? Where do we meet this Holy One born among us?
How did the shepherds find Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that night? Did they wander into the gates of Nazareth and move from house to house? Did they bother everyone they saw—“have you seen a pregnant girl, she was probably with her fiancée,
a man who looked like he was about to pass out, where did they go?
Or did the shepherds simply stumble upon a manger that night? How did they know the way? How do we know the way? How do we find Jesus? We have to go searching.
Journeying towards Jesus takes a tenacious curiosity, a dissatisfied hunger for something we know we can never provide ourselves. It’s something out there, well-beyond each and every one of us. Where do we find Him?
The task of Christmas is to take those first daring steps through the darkness of our own hillsides and set out—venturing, wandering, making our way closer and closer, day by day, to Jesus. That’s how we will find this child. By leaning forward and journeying toward Him—one stumbling, stuttering step at a time—not knowing exactly what we will encounter when we get to the manger, or how far away it might be, but being curious enough to risk the journey, because there’s this mysterious stirring inside of our hearts that’s telling us that what we might find is all we’ll ever need to find.
Christmas isn’t a time to know everything we need to know—how it’ll all work out. All those unanswered questions and ambiguities. Nor is it about making plans and sticking to them. The joy of Christmas can never be analyzed, strategized, or explained. It can only be enjoyed. Now is the time to wander, wonder—to stand in awe of what God has done and is still doing among us—to be open to divine surprises that crop up at every turn along the way—to simply hold the mystery and wonder of Christmas in our hands—or, better yet, let it hold us.
The Good News is that it’s not entirely up to us to find our way. If it was, we might get too lost to ever make it to Jesus. The Message of Christmas is that God has done most of the traveling already—toward us. No matter how far our journey is toward the Christ child—no matter the hills and valleys of our lives, the numbing darkness and the blazing light we must endure in order to live in Christ’s presence—God has already traveled much, much farther to reach us. And God has done that once and for all in this little child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. As John’s gospel declares, with this Jesus, God has pitched a tent right next to ours and dwells among us. But, we too must go searching so that we might also dwell in Him.
The promise of Christmas is that you and I can find Him, see Him face to face; we can encounter the living God, know Him, stand in His presence, and worship Him.
Just like the Shepherds, we have come this night to witness Jesus born among us, for us, in us, and through us. And just like the shepherds, we too are invited and challenged to share the Good News of Christ’s arrival with everyone we encounter along our journey. It is because of Christmas that we have seen the face of God in Christ Jesus. We have encountered Him and know Him. Now, we set out to share Him with everyone we meet along our way.
On this silent, Holy Night, Christ asks each of us to give birth to Him over and over again in our thoughts, our words, and our actions until everyone witnesses the wonder and majesty of the Christ who is now our Emmanuel—our God with us.
Keep looking. Stay curious. Continue venturing out. You will find a Him. I promise.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!