By Amy Moehnke
It’s almost that time again, when we hear the ancient story told – you know the one: about a young, bewildered, travel weary Mary and Joseph who after being visited by angels make a 90-mile trek to a place that’s not their home just in time for Mary to give birth in a barn to a baby-Son-of-God.
I’m quick to dismiss the manger scenes that portray this event as clean and quiet with a well-rested Mary and Joseph and Jesus quietly gazing at each other because I cannot imagine that after all they went through this is how they’d feel! But I can imagine that there was a glow that filled that barn like nothing ever had; and that it mixed with their exhaustion and the dirt and the confusion and made everything really quite perfect. The plain and the fantastic, the simple and the grand, the common and the extraordinary, coming together in a way that points to a God who enters our world with all the glory we would expect; to a people, in a place, in a way that we could never imagine being home for such magnificence.
Perhaps this is what drew the shepherds. A Messiah born where? The angelic choirs and the Glory of the Lord surely make quite an impression, but a Savior born in Bethlehem in a barnyard? This they had to see. And so, they set out on their own hard journey, flocks in tow, in order to see if maybe, just maybe this crazy story could be true.
And low and behold, what they’d heard from the angels matches what they see at the manger and when they tell the little family what they know they all get it. The pieces of the puzzle finally match up and suddenly everything changes. The once simple animal stall becomes home to the child in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. The journey that started out as less than desirable has ended up in an encounter with the living God who makes all things new.
Now, I don’t believe these amazing changes happened because Mary and Joseph and the shepherds hold some super special status in the eyes of God and therefore get the super special miracles reserved for such super special people. Rather, I’m convinced they happened because that’s just what God does. That’s just who God is, who God always has been, who God will always be.
This is the God who makes something out of nothing, light out of dark, order out of chaos, life out of death. So of course, this God can take a terribly inconvenient time and turn it into an event that changes the world. God did that then and God does that now. For anyone at any time who dares to believe that is true.
Of all the messages the Christmas story proclaims, this is my favorite. Because to know this truth and claim it for ourselves means that we can live in this world with hope and trust and courage and peace.
With hope, even if we’ve lost our job, or the medical diagnosis is not good at all. With trust, even if the car breaks down or the bills continue to be higher than the income. With courage, even if we’ve recently lost a loved one or a ended a relationship. With peace, even if the kids fight incessantly because they’re stuck at home due to this blasted pandemic.
No matter what kind of unplanned, unprepared, or unpolished situation we wind up in, there our God is and there our God will be. In fact, you might even say that God specializes in the unplanned, unprepared and unpolished and finds astounding ways to bring out of that the kind of life we simply cannot find on our own.
This is what allows the message of Christmas to speak to us all these years later, and what will allow it to continue speaking to us in the years to come. This is what makes the message of Christmas not just the message of Christmas, but also the message of everyday, for every situation, for every person. That is good news indeed. And thanks be to God. Amen.