The Nativity of our Lord

by Crossings

Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
(The Nativity of Our Lord–Christmas Eve)
Analysis by Michael Hoy,
Based on Robert W. Bertram’s “A Christmas Crossing,”
Currents in Theology and Mission 6,
No. 6 (December, 1979): 344-351.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor 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. 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 he 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 for them in the inn.

In that 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. But 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, as it had been told them.]

DIAGNOSIS: No “in” for us

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: By Night
All of the events of this Christmas narrative take place in the darkness of night. The shepherds even seem to prefer it so, “living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock.” We ought not dismiss this as a simple night watch. The shepherds, like us, prefer the darkness of night because it is easier to hide from the brightness of the light. And what would be exposed in the bright light? Might they claim that they are simply shepherds? Might we prefer to think of ourselves as having nothing to hide? Isn’t that the common and convenient deception we make, assuming that we can even dare someone to find fault with us, all along having devised elaborate schemes and systems for keeping people away from really scratching the surface and getting under our skin? We allow others to see our shadowy silhouettes, but please don’t look further in our direction. Don’t try to diagnose–“see through”–us. The desire for some covering, even the covering of nightfall, is much preferred, even as it was for our first parents.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Terrified
While the reference to being “terrified” applies specifically to the shepherds, and only after they have witnessed the bright light of glory of the angelic messenger, the truth is that they have been sitting on the edge of fear all along. Now that the night has been displaced, they stand naked before the bright glory of God. If they were only simple shepherds, why all this fear? Unless for them, as for us, there is more under the surface of things that we really did not want exposed. Our anxiety, for one. But more importantly, our real sense of unworthiness before the glory of God.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: No place
When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, they find there is “no place for them.” For the shepherds, even the meager accommodations of “living in the fields” is not enough to escape the ultimate condemnation of the bright light–not only that there is no place to hide from the glory of God, but more critically, God has “no place for them”–and for us–who are unworthy in his presence. Social theorists like J|rgen Habermas and David Harvey have discovered us postmodern people as those who are searching for “secure moorings in a shifting world,” “longing for an undefiled, immaculate, and stable present.” [David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1989), 302, 325.] But that is only scratching the surface of our contemporary lostness of place. We are without place before God.

PROGNOSIS: The Child who is with us, and through Whom we are “in” with God

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: The Savior in the Manger
What is wondrous about the brightness of the light that shines on the shepherds, however, is that it comes with a message about the birthing of a Savior, whose birth takes place not in royal palaces but in a manger. He is born in the midst of those who are without place before God. Furthermore, he is wrapped up in swaddling cloths. This would not be the only time he would be so tightly wrapped. He would be bound in the firm bandages of death; but even these would not hold him from saving those who are without place before God. As this child takes upon himself the fullness of our death and our being misplaced, even our being discarded, there is the light of resurrection in the manger for us.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Great Joy
So the angels announce their message as one of “great joy, for to us in the city of David is born a Savior, Christ the Lord.” Sheer terror at the thought of our unworthiness is replaced with great rejoicing at the newly-born worthiness that is bestowed upon the shepherds, upon Mary and Joseph, and upon us. No longer people longing for a place, we are people who have a home in this child who has made his home with us.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Glorifying
The shepherds, rejoicing, make haste to see the sign of their peace (remember how this child, when fully grown and beyond death’s constraint, would speak again of “peace,” bringing joy to his disciples?). And when they see the sight as had been told them by the angelic messengers, what do they do but return, glorifying. The light is no longer a light that needs to shine upon them. They do not need the darkness of the night to keep things hidden. Now, the light of the Savior is within them; and they, returning to the fields, and to all the towns and villages, let their new light shine in all its glory, as if the day will never end. Nor will it for us who have been so illumined by that glorious light.


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