The Birth of JesusLuke 2:1-20 (NRSVUE)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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 in the guest room.
The Shepherds and the Angels
Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
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.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.
The sky was brighter than usual that night, making it easier to keep track of the sheep. And then, it got even brighter!! Now, you would think that all that bright light, the “glory” shining down, the heavenly host of angels, and the amazing message they brought would have been “the sign.” That’s what most of us look for, isn’t it? A great big, in-your-face, obvious sign of God’s presence in our lives? But instead, the angel told the shepherds that a baby, a newborn, helpless, little baby was the sign.
The angel’s message that night (and, to be honest, the message of Christmas year after year) is that love is often found where you least expect it. And most likely, that same love is already in the ordinary moments of your life. You just need to allow yourself to see it.
Friends, as many of you know, I am a strong believer in signs because deep in my heart, I know there is more to life than what we see and hear, and experience in this moment. I know that love is vaster than the limits of our understanding. And that there is so much more about light and life and love, about holy spaces and sacred experiences, about Holy Spirit moments and God’s amazing presence than we can ever begin to imagine.
Now I know that many of you have certain signs that help you to feel the presence of loved ones that have passed away: cardinals, dragonflies, dimes or pennies found in unexpected places, feathers, rainbows that dance around our sanctuary, special songs that come on the radio at just the right moment or even repeating numbers on a digital clock. All of those things can help us feel as though our loved ones are close at hand. Now, can we explain how and why that happens? No. Is there scientific proof behind it? No. But does it bring a sense of comfort and hope to many of us? Yes. Friends, signs like these are never something we can explain or show proof of. All we can do is simply believe and let them fill our hearts with love.
On that night so long ago, the angels said to the shepherds, This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. Folks, that tiny, little baby, that little newborn life, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger, was a sign of love, a sign of God’s promise, and even more importantly, a sign of Emmanuel, God’s presence among us! Now, wait a minute, can we explain how and why that happened? No. Is there scientific proof behind it? No. But does it fill our hearts to overflowing with a sense of love? For many of us, yes.
My friends, when we live our lives by faith, we don’t need to have all the facts explained. We don’t need to have proof of exactly what is happening, and we don’t need to be able to explain the mystery away. We simply live into it, opening ourselves, believing, and in so doing, receiving the gifts that our faith so generously shares with us.
And the Christmas story is not the only story in scripture that encourages us to look for signs. In the Pentecost story, we are told that the Holy Spirit comes in the wind and in flames of fire, that God appears as a dove, not only on Pentecost but also at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my son, the beloved, in Him, I am well pleased.” In the Hebrew scriptures, God appears in the burning bush, and we hear that old men will dream dreams of God and young men will see visions. Again, can we explain how and why any of that happens? No. Is there scientific proof behind any of it? No. But does it fill our hearts with hope and peace and joy and love? For many of us, yes.
Friends, feeling the presence and the love of God can come to us in so many ways: when a beautiful rainbow stretches across the sky, when a ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds, when a warm breeze blows across our face, or when we suddenly feel a strange sense of calm and peace deep down inside. Okay, sure, the rainbow could be explained away scientifically by a meteorologist as an arch of colors in the sky caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun’s light by rain or other water droplets in the atmosphere.
But do you know what? When I see a rainbow, though I know that there is a scientific explanation, I still get excited. My heart still skips a beat. I feel the promise and the presence of God and the sense of hope and joy that it brings. Because for me, living a life of faith means being open to experiencing holy ground, sacred signs, amazing mysteries beyond my understanding, and the gift of God’s unconditional love all around and within me. I don’t need explanations, details, or proof. I just need to allow the mystery of my faith to open the door of possibility and fill my heart with love.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into this week before Christmas and you are surrounded by stress and worry, or maybe even the pain and emptiness of grief, look for the signs of love all around you because they are always there. They may not be in flashing lights, shiny paper, and bold print. On the contrary, they may be in snowflakes falling gently from the sky or a bird outside your window, or a call or a card from an old friend, or the flame of a flickering candle. Your signs may come through the kindness of a stranger. or in the quiet of a silent night. But be assured that they are there this Christmas and every other day of the year. All you need to do is let go and allow yourself to live into the mystery, opening your heart and your mind to truly believe.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!