An Ordinary Miracle

A Christmas Eve meditation on Luke 2:1-20

Image by Steve Erspamer

According to this passage of the gospel of Luke, the birth of Jesus begins in a very ordinary way. Everyone is just going about their business.

The Roman Emperor wants to collect taxes more efficiently, so he organizes a census.  The people who live under the control of the Roman Empire don’t want to get in trouble, so they follow the census instructions. Everyone travels to the town of their birth to be counted, and, naturally, rooms for the night grow scarce. Meanwhile, a baby is born in the stable behind an overflowing Bethlehem Inn. Not so strange — Babies come when they’re ready. They arrive every day. So far in this story, there’s taxes, travel, and birth: common human stuff.

It’s only when the angels arrive that we are invited to notice that something amazing is happening. An angel of God comes before shepherds doing their work in the fields. The angel shines with the glory of God, and says: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord!” Then a multitude of the heavenly host arrive, just in case someone has missed the point, shouting “Glory to God, and on earth, peace.”

We come here, tonight, in the midst of our own ordinary lives. Like the folks in the story, we have to contend with leaders who make choices about our nation.  Like the folks in our story, we know what it is to pay taxes, and to travel. Our lives are full, we work and rest and play. We fall in love, receive diagnoses, struggle, fight, grieve, break things, get exhausted, make up, fix what can be mended, and try again. Our lives are full to bursting with ordinary and heartbreaking stuff.  Babies are born here every day.

How often do we notice the wonder of it all?  How often do we take a deep breath, and gaze at life, and notice its beauty? 

We’ve been talking about Angels all season here. Angels, who bring messages. Angels, who bring comfort. Angels, who arrive unexpectedly. Angels, who guide us towards freedom. Angels do all these things and more.  And above and beyond these things, the angels in our scriptures invite us to awe. See the good in this, they encourage us. Feel the God in this. Sense the amazing power of this moment, and give thanks. Cry “glory.”

It’s a little daunting, to be asked to notice the good, to notice the God, going on in and around us. The folks in the story tonight aren’t sure what to do.

The shepherds, at first, are terrified. Who is this dazzling being?  From terror, they turn to curiosity.  “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.”  In other words, let’s see if this whole thing is actually true. Only once they have visited Mary, and Joseph, and the child, and seen for themselves, do the Shepherds get around to glorifying and praising God.

Mary shows us yet another possible reaction to the angelic invitation.  Instead of reacting in fear, or seeking proof, or giving thanks, Mary treasures the words of the angels, and ponders them in her heart.

No one said awe or gratitude was easy.  Still, the angels invite us to try them out.

On this holy night, we remember a time when God’s presence on earth was magnified. God shone bright in a star up above.  God beamed forth in the face of a newborn. Still, the miracle could have been missed. God does things in surprising ways. She chose a little one with brown skin, from a poor family, in a small nation, to show the world more about who she is. 

Thank God for the angels. The angels called to those folks back then, busy or bored, lost in pain or pleasure.  The angels called to them, and they call to us now.  Do not be afraid, they tell us. Dare to take a breath. Dare to take notice. Right now, close by, in the humblest place, is a love that can change your life, and a reason to cry, “Glory!.”

God, you are good, from the beginning of the world. Our lives are a gift from you, and our home is your beautiful creation. Still, there is a lot of pain here, and plenty of ordinary everyday. It’s easy to miss out on the most important stuff in the midst of everything else. Help us to notice the holiness shining forth in our lives: if only for a moment. Urge us on, to ponder it more deeply, and to pour forth our praise. Amen.