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.
In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
The account of the birth of Jesus is an old and familiar story. Storytelling has been a part of every culture since of the beginning of recorded time. Stories allow us to affirm who we are and experience the similarities between ourselves and others. Stories make meaning of our lives and are the way we pass on to future generations our history at its best and its worst.
We all love a good story. As children we delight in our parents reading our favorites to us and, as adults we consume good novels or non-fiction and enjoy movies that make us laugh or cry. And tonight we gather here in this sacred space to hear this ancient, sacred one—the Christmas story in all its sweetness and its roughness.
A beautiful story is told every Christmas in Provence in Southern France. It’s about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child. One brought eggs, another brought bread and cheese, the third wine. The fourth brought nothing at all. People called him L’Enchanté.
The first three shepherds chatted with Mary and Joseph, how cozy was the cave, how beautiful was the baby, what a lovely starlit night it was. They congratulated the new parents and presented them with their gifts. Then someone asked, “Where is L’Enchanté?”
One of the shepherds peeked through the blanket hung against the draft and there, kneeling at the crib, was L’Enchanté—the Enchanted One—where he had stayed through the night adoring and whispering words of love to the infant Jesus.
There are many stories told during this Christmas season, stories that speak to our human need for love, acceptance, restoration and hope—all of them rooted in the one story that unfolded on that first Christmas more than 2000 years ago. Yet as fond of the Christmas story as we may be, it is easy to miss some of the realities about its characters and what that night was like for them.
Through the ages Mary has been depicted with skin as white as snow and smooth as bone china with auburn hair and pale blue eyes. But the young woman in that cave was a plain, Jewish peasant girl from the backwaters of Nazareth, a dark-skinned, brown eyed teenager. And this new family unit was poor and were Middle Eastern refugees—fleeing the terror of the hateful King Herod who was determined to kill the baby.
That night in the stable, the cows’ big noses would have been curiously sniffing the infant and he would have cried if he were wiped by their sandpaper tongues. Our manger scenes rarely include a midwife, yet there very well may have been one. Then there were those bottom-of-the-barrel shepherds who were the first to get the good news of this birth. Enchanted as our Christmas cards and carols make it seem, it was a smelly, messy event and Jesus was born not into a rose garden but into a turbulent, untidy, violent world.
The stories of our lives can be just as untidy and carry their own struggles, delights and heartbreaks. Whatever your story, however you have come here today, with whatever is in your heart, with assurance or reservation, hope or disappointment, know that God loves you just as you are and wherever you are on your personal journey.
Christmas is about the astonishing truth that God took on flesh to live among us—God’s mysterious decision to become human in the person of Jesus, human like you and me; and that God is in our midst still seeking us every day at every moment. God throws love into our messy, scary world; that love, a passionate desire to be with God’s own people, kindles light in our darkness and brings warmth to the chill.
There is no question that our story as humankind is changing. There is a shift in the axis of our world as we have known it and we don’t really know where it is going or how it will unfold. The one thread that runs deep through the fabric of our soul is the God-given gift of hope. Since the beginning of time God has assured us that no matter how overwhelming the darkness may seem to us, there will be light and that light will overcome it.
The Reverend Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Indianapolis, the first African-American woman to lead a diocese in the Episcopal Church. Speaking about her own faith journey, she says:
“My relationship with Christ, which I found in The Episcopal Church, teaches me that the world is filled with incredible beauty and unspeakable pain and that God is deeply in the midst of it all, loving us fiercely. So, each day, nourished by the sacraments and stories of our faith, the beauty of our liturgical tradition, the wide embrace of this Christian community, I learn over and over again how to live without fear.”
To learn over and over again how to live without fear; that is the message of the angels this Christmas night and the message I hope that each of you will carry in your heart.