War and violence fill the evening news and we no longer notice it. Adults run themselves ragged to ensure that their families don’t fall into poverty and despair while children are so over scheduled they have forgotten how to play.
The joy of shopping for loved ones has been taken away as senseless acts of violence unfold over televisions, tennis shoes, and toasters.
We live in dark and fearful times. We come into this place to hear a reassuring and timeless story of angels and shepherds and virgins...and we find a Savior lying in a horse trough.
Our Savior is a wee little babe lying next to cows, sheep, and goats among all those things one finds in a stable.
What an extraordinary claim! What an unlikely and incredible cause for a celebration! How can darkness and doubt be penetrated by a tiny baby born in a stable with the yuck that is real life to a frightened and displaced couple far, far from home?
We come tonight to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Some of us come with heavy hearts, broken spirits, and tired bodies. Others come not remembering this child. Still others cannot imagine this child making a difference in our lives, in our worlds. Some of us come because we don’t know what else to do.
The story we celebrate this night is far from safe. From the very beginning there were few who could accept it. Every Gospel speaks to this. John says he came to his own but his own people did not accept him. Luke says that even as he was being born, no room could be found for him and the doors were shut to him. Matthew says the very mention of him threw the king into a murderous fit, and the child and his family had to flee. And strangely enough, right here in the stories of his birth, we are already hearing echoes of his death. Even as a newborn we could not find room for him. Even at the first glimmer of the light of the world, the world was saying "There is no room for you here.”
In the stories of his birth and death we see a king who is far more powerful and far more glorious than any splendid earthly ruler. A God willing to lay aside power and glory in a way we never could. We see one who is more pure and righteous than even the most virtuous person walking this earth. One who does not treat anyone as beneath him, none are excluded from his love. Not even the lowest of the low. We see one who is the rightful judge of all the earth, yet who never judges us harshly for our attempt to run from him and shield ourselves from his light.
We see one who, though we shut our doors and left him to be born in a filthy stable, and though we found it easier to turn our backs on his death than endure his teaching, he continues to approach us with the unbearable light of extravagant love, perfect grace and truth made flesh. Perfect love made incarnate in a form we can recognize only if we choose to look past the simplicity of it.
We see in this amazing, upside down love story that it is possible for love to banish fear, for grace to banish vengefulness, and for humility to banish arrogance.
If we let go of our petty excuses to run from this love we can come to know this saviour that chose to come as a fragile and vulnerable and powerless newborn baby. Then and only then may we stand in the light of Christ.
This little baby lying in a trough promises the salvation of the world. This story is so far from what was expected then, expected now, that we have difficulty wrapping our arms, let alone our minds around it. Yet, if we like those long ago shepherds follow the light into that dirty stable, we will find ourselves born anew, born of God, born as children of God, full of grace and truth.
And if we allow ourselves to come closer to that trough, to kneel with the shepherds and angels in the smelly mess that is Immanuel, God with us, we begin to see the edges of the darkness pushed away a little bit at a time.
In that wee babe we experience a love like no other. A love that turns everything upside down. A love beyond our imagining, our understanding, our experience. A love that pushes the darkness further and further away.
This is the love that cannot be quenched even when the world will not make room for it. A love that will come to us again and again until we recognize it, embrace it, make room for it. A love that redeems all that it touches. A love that makes even those of us that are frightened and displaced feel as though we belong. A love that allows us to crawl into the trough and be made whole again.
This love comes to us in the stuff that is life and drives out the darkness. A love that calls us to run with the shepherds from the stable to share with others all we have been told about this child. A love that changes everything as the need to share it bursts from us as we leave the stable this night.
Shall we go now and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us?