Christmas Eve 2023
Tonight is the Night of Nights in the Christian calendar. Christmas Eve.
This night brings to mind the Christmas story, as told in Luke's Gospel, about how God became one of us to rescue all of us.
It's also the night we put on our Christmas-y clothes and come together to sing, pray, light candles, and then go off into the night with no small expectation, and maybe even---dare I say it---hope.
No matter how we got here tonight---willingly, unwillingly, coerced, bribed---we are here together.
Our collective memories of Christmas Eve's past can be felt among us. We share these feelings. There is nostalgia here tonight. There is joy. There is excitement. There is also sadness and grief. There is firm belief and also skepticism.
As my kids would say, there is "all the feels."
So tonight, we share the story. And even when the story itself doesn't always align with history or our understanding of reality, we share it because it's the story of the unlikely way that God shows how much God loves.
That first Christmas Eve must have been something.
Mary was pregnant. In the words of the Scripture (and I'll paraphrase), she was really pregnant.
Neither was from Bethlehem, but due to the Roman census that year, everyone was supposed to report to the city of their family origin to be counted.
So they went.
Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem late in the evening after having traveled for at least two days from Nazareth in the north. The Scripture indicates that Mary rode a donkey led by Joseph.
That had to be super comfortable.
Now, this was before the time of Airbnb and Vrbo. You couldn't phone up a hotel and make a reservation. You showed up and either went in search of friends and family to stay with, or you found an inn with an opening.
Everything was booked.
I found this wonderful meme the other day and am sharing it.
I've made that mistake a time or two.
A story about a hotel in Arkansas
All that was left was a stable. And this wasn't a Bavarian stable like the ones we often see. It was a cave.
Photo of the cave.
And so, in this non-descript cave on the outskirts of the city and to homeless parents, Jesus was born.
The welcoming committee was a few dirty, cast-off shepherds who weren't fit to even worship in the synagogue.
This is how the eternal, universal Christ entered into history.
Why does this matter? What is it about this story that we find so compelling? We retell it, but how often do we consider what it means to us?
It matters because this story that we retell is our story. It's the story of how God comes to us, over and again and always. Jesus' birth is not a story of grand success, high achievement, financial gain, and having your stuff together.
It's the story of outcasts.
It's the story of refugees.
It's the story of those not good enough.
It's the story of God showing up in our brokenness, our lack, our need, and at every moment that needs a Savior.
Jesus' extraordinary life began in very ordinary, less-than-ideal circumstances.
And this should give all of us such great hope.
Christ is born.
Christ is born now to us.
Do not be afraid.
Go out from this place tonight, and know that wherever you go, God is with you, for you, and loves you.
In the words of Fr. Richard Rohr: "God becomes what God loves."