Thursday, December 27, 2012
"It happened..." Or, if you are old like me, "It came to pass..." but that sounds more like fairy tale than fact. "It happened" is better. It happened that a government wanted a census to bring in more tax dollars. No surprise there. The census listed people and property so that taxes could properly be levied on all. The census took years to complete. In southern France, they had a tea party rebellion which took the Roman Caesar 40 years to put down. In Palestine, zealots fought the census also.
Not Joseph. He did not fight. He packed up his pregnant wife and they head off to the family home in Bethlehem. Caesar had nothing to fear from this carpenter and his wife. Or so it seemed. Caesar did not realize his little tax program was part of God's greater plan.
It happened in Bethlehem. The rule of Caesar and the obedience of Quirinius led Joseph to head to his ancestral home. He comes with Mary who is soon to deliver and then, right there in Bethlehem, without room or notice, the child is born. It happens all the time. Women, mostly poor women, go into labor at all the wrong times and places. But the child is born according to God's script. No matter how untimely for the people, it was God's time.
It happened. As Bethlehem slept, the silence was pierced by a child's newborn cry. But there were none to hear. Some shepherds were told of it and invited to come and see. They were frozen in fear after a visit from angels so they did as they were told. A stinky, hard, rough crowd – unlikely to witness a birth and unlikely to fear much of anything. But they feared God.
It happened. A Savior is born. Christ the Lord. Bethlehem is a small town so it is not like it would be hard to miss its newest citizen. But still, they were given clues. He is wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
It is not like a baby is much to see. Parents and grandparents look but to the rest of us, a baby is a baby. Yet this child was different. He was born to make the night shine, the angels sing, the shepherds visit, and the magi journey. They shared what they had been told concerning this child. God is come in flesh and blood, the Son of God is born, the Savior long promised. They talked about what had happened. Just like we talk about what happens.
It happened. While all is unfolding, Mary is there. She is the one to whom the Angel spoke, who felt the first movement of the child in her womb, who marveled at the visit where she was called the Mother of my Lord... Mary was the first Lutheran! She pondered all of this in her heart. "What does this mean?" - the good Lutheran question! More than this, what does it mean for ME?
It happened. A fact in history. What you believe about it or what you don't believe about it cannot change what happened. Faith does not alter events – it unfolds them. I have told you the facts. Now it is up to you to ponder, to put it all together... and this requires faith – a faith given to you by the Holy Spirit. To help you answer, "What does this mean... for ME?"
It has been some week. A world at war here and there. An economic cliff only days away. A neat and tidy school that is stained with blood. I wish I could erase all the risk of living or make it safe to believe, easy to believe. I cannot. It happened whether you believe it or not but what it means awaits your faith to make the miracle your own. All I can do is tell you the story and invite you to ponder it. Ponder it with Mary startled at the news or Joseph who thought he should ditch Mary quietly or shepherds who found their quiet night interrupted by angels or Magi on the long journey to a place where they were not sure what they might find... It happened. They pondered. We ponder. And the Spirit is at work.
God no longer pronounces judgments from mountain tops. In many and various ways He spoke to His people of old, but now, He has spoken the final Word through His Son. He takes on the flesh and blood of a little boy child to walk among us the holy life we could not walk. He lives among us to meet the death we never want to meet and to die for those still His enemies. He rises on the third day so that death cannot claim the final word and you and I might have hope for more than today. He came for the broken and defeated to heal them and give them victory. It happened. He came. For you. For me.
What He gives us is no mere memory. We have more than a past. We have a future. We add nothing to what He has done but claim it by faith as the birth of our Savior, to live a holy life in our place, to die the fearful death in our place, and to rise for us to the life that death cannot overcome. Faith meets the Lord there... in the ordinary of flesh and blood and a baby's face... in the ordinary of the Word that actually does what it promises... in the water that kills so that we may be made eternally alive... in the bread which hides His flesh for the life of the world and in the wine that is His blood shed for all, but most of all for me.
It happened. Whether we believe it or not. But what it means for you depends upon faith. Either it is merely a fact in history or it is the life changing fact of God at work to save us from our sins and deliver us from our enemy death. It does not change the fact... but faith does change the result. Faith insists that as random as it all was, this birth, this life, this death, and this resurrection was God acting "for ME." We are here not simply to remember but to receive, not simply to acknowledge but to claim, and not simply to rejoice, but to rejoice in the salvation that God has brought to us... here and now... in the person of His Son. May God give you the faith to grasp the miracle and to claim the mystery of the love born to save the world... to save you... and me. Amen.