Someplace far away on a snowy Christmas Eve a family is getting ready to go to church. Mom stops and asks Dad one more time, “Are you sure you won’t come with us?” Now Dad is a good, honest, honorable man and he shakes his head: “Honey, I just don’t believe in Jesus. I can’t see why God would want to come to our world as a human baby. I just don’t believe.”
So Mom gives him a quick kiss and bustles the children out to the car. They drive off into the dark, snowy night. Dad sits down by the large picture window in the living room and picks up a book, feeling a bit lonely.
As he becomes engrossed in his book, he suddenly hears a loud “Thump,” then, “thump, thump, thump.” Is someone throwing snowballs at the window? He opens the front door to see what all the noise is about. At first, he sees nothing, then he looks down and notices four birds struggling in the snow beneath the window.
Immediately, he understands what has happened. Attracted to the light through the window, the birds have flown into it and have fallen, injured to the snow. He knows they are suffering and will die soon if he doesn’t help them get to a safe, warm place.
He quickly puts on his heavy coat and boots and takes two careful steps toward the birds. They flutter in panic. “Hmmm.” He looks around and gets a good idea; he opens the door to the warm garage, turns on the light and makes a quick nest of blankets. He backs away, hoping the birds will make their way to safety. They don’t.
His worry increases. His next idea is to lay a careful path of birdseed from the birds to the garage. He does so, then backs away and hopes and hopes they will follow his path to safety. But the birds don’t understand. They continue to suffer in the snow.
Oh, he is so frustrated. He fervently thinks: “I am too big, too different, too scary for the birds. Oh, if only I could be a bird for just a little bit, I could lead them to safety, I could help them understand ...”
And he stops. Suddenly, he knows why God had to come to earth as a baby to help us. He sinks to his knees in the snow. He understands. God was laying down careful paths to help us and we didn’t follow them. We didn’t understand the message. We had to be able to hear his message spoken by one just like us. So God became man. (1)
Our family lives in an old three story house. As we have no intercom system, sometimes I shout downstairs telling Jeff to do something. My son is a very good, very obedient teenager so maybe he doesn’t hear me when he doesn’t respond to my requests. So I shout, “Do I have to come down there and tell you again?” This is exactly what I imagine God saying. Throughout history he tried to communicate his message to us through signs, through prophets, through floods and whales and parting seas. Finally he reached a point where he sighed heavily and said, “OK, fine. I’m coming down there myself.” God needed to become just like us so that we could hear and understand his message.
Tonight we celebrate this beautiful story of a baby born in a manger to a young mother. We join the frightened shepherds in the field visited by an angel who says, “Do not fear.” Then there is a crowd of jubilant angels singing “Alleluia! The Lord has Come!”
Stop the story right there. Stop. Can you be in that field with those shepherds, having witnessed this terrifying, awe inspiring sight? The next moment is so important. The singing stops, the angels disappear. What’s next? What would you do? I would be cowering in fear, covering my face, wondering if I was losing my mind.
Our simple shepherds took one step toward Bethlehem. They took one small step toward believing the angels. They took one tiny step toward faith. They walked slowly at first, then they began to hurry toward the city. Finally they RAN full speed to the baby lying in the manger. They ran to God. Remember though, their faith started with one hesitant step.
I believe that Jesus was God made man. He came to help us understand God’s hopes and dreams for us. Here’s the message he brought: “Love God. Love one another. Be humble. Serve others. Love your neighbors AND love your enemies. The meek and the poor shall inherit the earth. Remember, God loves you, just as you are.”
For teaching this radical, life changing message, Jesus was killed. But people heard and understood what he said. Lives changed as more and more people embraced his teachings. Starting with just a few people in a time with no media, his radical message spread. Today there are roughly 2.2 billion Christians in the world.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Even if you don’t believe he is God made man, there was a historical Jesus, a man who walked and talked 2000 years ago. He, or his followers are referred to by Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and other non-Christian writers in the first and second centuries.
Throughout my life my faith has been all over the map. Sometimes I feel very distant from God. I am deeply comforted by knowing that even saints like Mother Theresa had equally dark periods without faith. It is OK for us to question and probe. I believe that a faith arrived at through questions and doubt is stronger in the long run.
Having said that, it is still no fun when we don’t feel close to God. When I feel that way, I still strive to follow the teachings of the historic Jesus and I am a better person for it. I come to church no matter how I feel because it feeds me. I sit still and let the beauty of the service, the beauty of the words flow over me. The love I feel in this building feeds me.
One doesn’t need to be perfect and full of faith to come to church, in fact, the opposite is true. Kathleen Norris writes; “If we feel utterly exhausted, drained of all feeling and weary with worldly chores and concerns, so much the better. Our weakness is God’s strength. Our emptiness means that there is room for God after all.”
Christmas comes right at the winter solstice when our short, dark days began to lengthen. Tonight’s reading from Isaiah starts; “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.” On this dark night, we celebrate the coming of the light of God, the miracle of the birth of Christ. God’s love has come down to us tonight. No matter where you are on your faith journey, like the simple shepherds, take that small step tonight. Turn toward the light of Christ and make room for him in your soul.