Nativity of Our Lord
Dec. 24, 2019
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
First Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
Title: No Time, Right Time
A poem by Madeleine L’Engle titled, The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973 (Madeleine L’Engle)
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
With all due respect to the brilliance of Ms L’Engle, I feel compelled to write a second verse. Or perhaps it is a sequel. For Christmas 2019. Because…
This is no time for a child to be born (or to joyfully celebrate Christmas)
With the nation dealing with a crisis of leadership
(Whichever color your state or your state of mind, you have to admit it’s a crisis.)
No time, with the world not dealing with a crisis of climate change.
Time is certainly running out. Preach it, Greta.
Children are in cages, families are separated
There is no room for asylum seekers
They say it’s all in the name of law and order and safety
The rich are getting richer and the homeless are increasing
The assailants are getting younger, the prisons are at capacity,
In a dearth of opportunities, a gang seems the only option.
And the wars just keep going on and on and on.
Yes, Madeleine, it’s no time for a child to be born, whether 1973, or 83, 2003, or 2019. Let’s just admit it, it just never is time for a child to be born. And perhaps that painful slice of reality is why we keep coming back to this story of another time when it was not time for a child to be born.
The time, over 2,000 years ago, when a young couple felt deeply that this was no time for a child to be born. As Madeleine points out in her poem, the land of Mary and Joseph was under the harsh occupation of Rome, so powerful, so complete, so eternal, it seemed. The local rulers and religious leaders certainly didn’t see any hope of ever being free again, and so they became collaborators with the foreign masters, the imperial oppressors. A small piece of the power pie is better than no piece, right? Why bring a child into that? And to make matters worse, a forced census and taxation was going on. Masses of people were on the move, returning to ancestral homes. So many people, that inns were full and no lodging for this expecting mother was to be found. Imagine Mary sitting in the hay, surrounded by animals, breathing in the smells of a barn, labor pains increasing, and she is thinking: “The angel Gabriel said I was blessed. This is not what I expected.” Not a time for a child, right? And Joseph, wasn’t accepting Mary’s story about her pregnancy and the angel in the dream enough of a test? This is no time. Not this way.
Even those shepherds might have been thinking that this is not the time for an invitation to a baby shower, or a maturity ward. We are told that the reason the shepherds were in the field with their flocks is because it was the time when the ewes were lambing. They needed to be there in case a mother sheep needed assistance with her coming lamb. In the midst of all this an angel appears and tells them some incredible news. Wonderful news that cannot be ignored. But the sheep. But the news, the baby. No time for a child.
Seeing this perpetuation of poor timing and deep pain, this invitation to hope and failed expectations, causes me to see humanity as Charlie Brown and God as Lucy holding the football inviting us to kick. You know the routine. Charlie Brown wants to believe that this time, this time, regardless of how many failed times before, this time Lucy is not going to pull the ball away at the last minute and the poor sucker will finally get a chance to kick the ball and experience the joy of success, the elation of dreams fulfilled, the birth of new life. Does this revisit to “no time for a child to be born” Christmas have you feeling like Charlie Brown? Only you know better that this time will be no different from all those other “Drat” and “Good Grief” resulting attempts and we’re all just going to end up flat on our back with disappointment again.
Well hold on, because a major re-casting is needed. As down on our luck as we may think we are, we are not Charlie Brown, about to be fooled again. Rather, I think we (all of broken humanity) are Lucy and God is in the role of poor, sad Charlie. God is there ready for this time, this birth, this child to be the one when humanity will finally see the light and faithfully participate in the coming kingdom that is born in the person of Jesus, the babe in the manger. But there’s that cross, reminding us – we who are Lucy – that the ball got yanked away again, and God has landed flat. But God will be back for another try, and another try, and another try.
And so, we are back for another Christmas. Another song of joy filled with hope – not hope based on us making it a better time for a child to be born. No, our hope is the hope of God, hope in God, the hope of persistent and determined Charlie Brown. Maybe this time we will actually get it, get God.
Maybe this time we will open up a room in our overcrowded lives so that God isn’t dwelling out there in the barn, or in the storage bin, in the basement or the attic.
Maybe this time we will really hear the message of the angels that true peace comes to all through this gift of God, this baby born. Good timing or not.
Maybe this time, we’ll join the shepherds and prioritize appropriately, put the good news ahead of the responsibilities that grind us down.
Maybe this time, we’ll hold the football in place long enough for God’s action to take place, take hold, in us, for us, and through us. And we won’t just woosh it all away, thinking there is no time for this birth, this is no time for hope, this no time for lives to change, no time for a peace that passes all understanding.
Yes, God’s mercy insists: Love still takes the risk of birth. So, stay put, Lucy’s of the world, keep holding the football. See how God is kicking this one out of the park. Stay put, you witnesses of Jesus, keeping holding that babe born in a barn. See how the Spirit continues to work hope and peace, even though and because this is no time for a child to be born. All glory and praise be to our persistent and risk-taking God, the child is born.
The Rev. Mark E. Erson,