This is such a wonderful story told in Luke’s Gospel. So familiar to many of us. And it got me remembering the birth of our first-born child as I re-read Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-20).
Our son was late arriving. A habit he’s kept throughout his life! It was coming up to two weeks past the expected date of arrival. I was weary from the waiting and beginning to wonder if the baby would ever arrive.
Our car was very unreliable, so I wondered whether it would get us to the hospital about half an hour away or whether we’d need to get a taxi or borrow a car or call the ambulance…the world had shrunk to days of waiting, nervousness, anticipation of joy and a sense of cautiousness, from knowing life would never be quite the same again for us. We were young, quite poor, straight out of university and living in rental accommodation and I was out of work.
But the world was carrying on without us paying it any attention. Life continued around us, no-one was paying us any attention either.
I’m sure most of you will have similar stories of your own, either for yourselves, your friends or for your families. New babies eagerly anticipated, accompanied by feelings of anxiousness, joy and celebrations. Sometimes it’s a different story too, stories of sadness and grief.
I grieve with all mothers whose children are born in prison, in refugee camps, on the road fleeing disaster, alone and without loved ones, babies unwanted and rejected.
And yet, the miracle of new life is the most extraordinary expression of hope we can imagine. God’s gift of creation in to each of us, all around us, such joy and hope for the future.
Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus, is one that is most real and human in its focus out of all the Gospels. We can imagine the circumstances which he describes for the birth of Jesus. And, of all the four Gospels, Luke focuses on and emphasises the women, together with the marginalised in the stories, rather than the powerful, and most joyfully, we hear frequently about the presence of the Holy Spirit and see the shape of God’s plans through the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us with affection, about Mary and Elizabeth her cousin, both women having children unexpectedly, Jesus and John, not ordinary circumstances by any stretch of the imagination. Both women accept God’s invitation to them, to be surprised and joyful needing only God’s faithfulness to make it work.
And while we know women are still considered as marginalised, both Mary and Joseph as a couple were also peasant people, from the hill country of Galilee. Joseph, we are told, is of David’s lineage, but let’s remember David himself was a shepherd, before he was made King, raised up by God into new life
We hear also about the shepherds, their work despised and marginalised in their culture, men living in the fields. But on this night, they abandoned their work on hearing the good news from the angels, to go and see the new baby, and then heading back home, celebrating and sharing the story of the birth of the Messiah.
I suspect they were in trouble when they got home and probably accused of being drunk in charge of….
Mary would likely have been seen by many as a shamed young woman, pitied, a topic for gossip and speculation; and I love Joseph for his kindness, faithfulness, loving trust and hope shared with God. Joseph trusted and loved Mary and he clearly loved Jesus when you look at the boy and the man Jesus grew to be, in the family Joseph and Mary created.
And as I think back to the birth of our children, it was a very different environment for Mary and Joseph, in the stable of an out-of-the way inn in Bethlehem, with Jesus laid in a manger.
The different threads of this story stand in stark contrast to the other one being told by Luke; the one about the Roman empire, led by Emperor Augustus, full of power and might. Augustus ordered the lives of all his people, to ensure taxes were paid and the promised Roman peace, ‘Pax Romana’ was maintained through war and violence.
The Emperor used his power over others. In contrast, the baby whom angels and the Holy Spirit praised and welcomed grew into a story-telling teacher and healer who proclaimed the power of God through peace, achieved non-violently, through compassion, through the love of God, neighbour and self. This love and peace are also seen in the way this innocent teacher and healer was crucified by the violent power of the empire.
The baby who becomes the man on the cross, is God with people rather than God over people. God who lifts up the oppressed, the poor, the unloved, the broken, grieving and hopeless. God fills us all with God’s love and peace.
In Jesus, whose birth we celebrate today, God is turning the tables on all who seek peace through worldly power and might, through violence in our homes, in our country and in the world.
Instead, God’s love and power comes generously into the world as a baby born of poor people, becoming a man who is oppressed and killed by the world’s powers, and a man who lives with those willing to rely on God’s promises.
Irenaeus in the second century wrote: “Because of his boundless love, Jesus became what we are, so that he might make us to be, what he is.”
And as the birth of Jesus offers us hope, we ask ‘what might we be, what does God want of us?
In this wonderfully familiar story retold again of Jesus’ birth, we are invited to imagine ourselves as this young couple and this small baby and know truly we are made in God’s image. In Jesus’ weakness and vulnerability, in his faith and love of God and us, our confidence in God is strengthened.
We are called, however vulnerable and hesitantly, in mind, body and spirit, to follow God in Jesus. He is the peace of God’s power ‘with’ us, seen and felt through love and compassion. It is not seen or experienced as power over us, exercised with violence, hatred and fear.
As we celebrate together today, let us joyfully celebrate the miracle of new life, of new birth, of new creation which God with the power of the Holy Spirit, brings to each one of us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord be with you