Imagine – It’s the middle of the night, a few shepherds on a hill are chatting, but they’re on alert, eyes scanning the darkness. The reason they’re wide awake in the middle of the night is because night is a time of danger for sheep – predators, maybe even thieves. Then suddenly, the skies fill with light and an angel gives a message to them. To Them – some of the most looked-down-on people in the community.
“Listen to this,” the angel says, “A Savior for the world has been born in Bethlehem. Go. In Bethlehem, you will find a child, swaddled in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And they go. They leave the sheep to the dangers of the night and rush to Bethlehem. To look for a baby. I wonder what they thought he would be like, this newborn Savior. From what would he save them? The work? The poverty? The looks of disgust from their neighbors? The constant oppressive presence of the Roman soldiers and politicians and tax collectors?
I bet they weren’t expecting the ordinary young woman with an ordinary baby that they found. God so wants to be with us that God comes to us this way, as an ordinary baby.
What happens then, when the shepherds see the child? What happens when you see a little baby with their mother or parent? Our hearts open, don’t they?
I think we can’t help it. We’re even willing to be vulnerable in their presence – the child won’t reject our love.
I have often thought of God’s love as being like the love of a devoted parent, but lately I’ve been thinking about how a small child loves a parent – openly, honestly, fully, nothing held back – even when the parent is terrible at loving. Maybe we can remember how to love like that again. Maybe that’s how God loves us – openly, honestly, fully, nothing-held-back – even when we’re terrible at loving God.
Listen to the angels:
In Bethlehem, you will find a child.
In the Bethlehem of your heart, you will find a child.
A child to love.
A child that is loved.
A child that loves.
A child that is cherished and loved by God.
A child that is swaddled by God’s love.
And right there, you will find
the Christ that is God with you all the days of your life
to light your path and lighten your burden.
Maybe we can remember how to receive love like a child – to believe it, to trust it. That’s what God desires for us to fully embrace the love God reveals in the Christ-child.
Have you ever been with little kids on Christmas morning, opening their presents? Or maybe you remember it from your own childhood. They rip off the paper, eyes bright, knowing there will be something WONDERFUL inside. They never say, “Oh you shouldn’t have,” or “No, this is too much.”
There’s never a sense that they think they don’t deserve it.
It's only as we grow older that we begin to believe we have to earn everything – that we have to earn love, even God’s love. We even learn not to reveal our pain, our fears, our failures to each other, for fear of losing love. Because maybe you would reject me if you knew; maybe you would stop loving me.
The Christ-child we find in Bethlehem frees us from that fear and invites us to other Bethlehems. In the mBethlehems all around us, you will find a child.
What if we were to love God like a child loves? What if we were open to God’s love like a child is open to a parent’s love? What if we were to go to Bethlehem and love the child we find that is our neighbor? When we go to Bethlehem, we may not find the child we want, or the one we imagine, or the one we hope for, but we will find God’s gift to the world.
This Christmas, let’s go to Bethlehem to find the child. The child that is love incarnate. The love that lights the world.
Christmas comes again and again, year after year. Christ comes again and again into our lives, into our darkness.
Even as we can’t gather in a candlelit church, this year, the virus can’t keep us apart. We gather instead in our Computer-screen-lit homes. Christ shows up anyway. We find the child that lights our path through whatever darkness we’re in and lightens the heaviness of whatever burden we bear.
Why do we come again and again to hear the story and sing the carols? We come because whether we know it or not, we want to find the child swaddled in bands of cloth. We come to have our hearts broken open by the love of a child. We come because we long to be swaddled by the love of God.
Merry Christmas, beloved of God.