Grace Appeared Embodied
A Brief Christmas Reflection by Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay
2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
A Brief Christmas Reflection
Many of us learned that Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manger and envisioned her in a barn or stable. The reason was because there was no room for them in the inn..as if Joseph made reservations at a hotel or bread and breakfast only to be informed upon arrival that the reservation was canceled. The Common English Bible translates that word differently and calls it a “guestroom.” This more accurately reflects that their final destination was found within a home that lacked capacity to accommodate this burgeoning unit in the family quarters but made room among the area where the animals were sheltered.
Some of us find that scenario no less horrifying than the Christmas movie version of events. Jesus did not come with fanfare, draped in silk and royal garb. Joseph didn’t go upon a balcony to show the new baby to a world awaiting the birth of a monarch. Mary labored in dirt and dust inhaling the smell of animals and adding her wails of childbirth to their sounds, moans, and groans.
I wonder if the animals were sensitive to her pain and felt relief as the Christ child entered into the world. Animals can be very attuned to the state of those surrounding them…other animals and human beings. There is something about being a living being that connects us to one another. While that guestroom was removed from a garden, isn’t it interesting that this family unit that was birthing a new era for humanity was surrounded by animals? Adam and Eve entered the garden after other living creatures had taken up residence. Noah and his spouse gathered representatives of every creature on earth to spare them during the flood and began life anew after the waters receded with those animals at their side.
Now, here comes Jesus, God robed in flesh and wrapped snugly against the vulnerability of new life. The source of all life discovers what it feels like to breathe this air we breathe, is subjected to the rigors and restraints of eating, sleeping, and all other bodily functions that keep us going. The Creator becomes a creature.
So often this story is told with wonder and awe that Christ has come into the world, but also lamenting the lack of hospitality that this young family received. How many times have we heard, “There was no room for them in the inn”? I do believe that is a faithful and thoughtful observation, but I wonder if we miss how Jesus responds to that failing in the manner of his entry. It was humble, so humble that it was missed by almost everyone in the world. This event that transformed the world made little impact at the time with the exception of a small group of people who received the birth announcement.
The royal decree didn’t introduce Jesus, it inconvenienced and unduly burdened his parents. It added to the inhospitality of the moment. There would have been no need to scout for a safe and inviting place to stay if they hadn’t been forced from their home. If they weren’t subject to the whims of the emperor, their comfort would only be disturbed by the unavailable realities of childbirth.
Jesus’ birth isn’t royal or grand…but it is glorious. The angels first share the announcement and then shepherds spread the good news. The high and exalted in heaven are brought together with the meek, humble, and marginalized on earth, and both enjoy the same, closely-held revelation–the Chosen One has appeared.
Jesus’ birth doesn’t receive much fanfare, pomp and circumstance. But, it’s full of grace. It’s not a coincidence that really wonderful hosts are often referred to as being gracious. Grace invites empathy and consideration. Grace puts the focus on the other. Grace is the ultimate expression of hospitality. Grace, in Jesus, doesn’t summon us to give an account of ourselves but beckons to humble space and to find a God who comes to us gently, quietly, in the stillness of the night. Grace, in Jesus, not only journeys beside us but walks like us, breathes like us, and feels like us. Grace came to know and understand. Grace knocks down barriers, builds bridges, and traverses distance.
There wasn’t room in the royal courts or splendid palaces, but there was room on earth, among other living and breathing creatures, for the Living God to enter into this humble existence as a guest bearing the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love.
Let us rejoice and give thanks for the Light of the World is at the door seeking room.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.