Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 23, 2012

Today's text

So they [the shepherds] hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them (Luke 2:16-18).


Joseph stands watch, silently listening. He never speaks. But he hears with his ears … and in his soul.

Mary shifts her weight and tries to sleep. The infant whimpers, crying out from time to time, and Mary instinctively pulls him closer. Sheep in the stall shuffle in the hay.

It’s a poor place for a newborn, and there is no one to call if the child and his mother need help. The sound of his aloneness closes around Joseph as he realizes it is all up to him and Mary, and she has all she can do to keep the child warm and fed.

He is alone with his thoughts and fears. Is the story true? Is this child the presence of God visiting his people? Could this child actually be the savior who brings … what?

How can a child save anyone? He is entirely dependent on us or he dies. Joseph’s mind trails off in a fog of fatigue, stirred at the sound of footfalls outside the stable.

Cold fear grips his gut. Who is out and about at this hour? Thieves? Drunks? Beggars looking for a handout? He steels himself for confrontation.

But none comes. Several shepherds appear in the stable opening. Two of them bend at the waist, breathing heavily from a hard run. The others look in, mouths hanging open, startled at what they see.

 It is just as it had been told them. Their feet scrape in the dirt as they step inside and stammer, “Did you see? Did you hear?”

A tale of light in the night sky and angelic messengers tumbles out of them, as Joseph stands agape, listening. Mary lifts her head toward them for only a moment, her gaze steady on the child she cradles.

Joseph had heard and seen nothing, and now these messengers come with a story as fantastical as the one Mary told him about the wonder of this child on that awful day he learned she was pregnant.

This child is the savior, the new king descended of the great King David. He is the Christ, the anointed one who uniquely bears the presence of God to cold stables on dark nights, when doubts distress and fears gather..

The shepherds believed what they’d heard and brought the message to the manger. We hardly think Mary and Joseph needed to be told what was happening.

But God sent messengers even to them that they might truly know their lives were caught up in the great story of God making his mind and heart flesh.

So is yours.

So look at the child … and know. God is not to be found by climbing mountains or in fits of spiritual ecstasy. God finds us in our common lives and stories where the love in Mary’s arms becomes flesh and blood.


For prayer and reflection

  • What moved you or caught your attention in the reflection as you imagined the scene?
  • Do you identify with Joseph or anyone else in the story? What do they show you?
  • Do you think Mary and Josepha needed messengers to remind them of the wonder of which they were a part? How and when do you forget that you are part of that story? What brings you back?

Another voice

Who is the baby an hour or two old. Looked for by shepherds far strayed from their fold. Lost in the world though more precious than gold? This is God with us in Jesus.
Who is the man who looks on at the door, welcoming strangers, some rich but most poor. Scanning the world as if somehow unsure? Joseph, the father of Jesus.
(“The Aye Carol,” John L. Bell, 1987)

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