Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Homily
Christmas Eve, 2010
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

 

  Let us pray: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

 They are less frequent today than they were, say, fifty years ago. We still find them on church lawns and in the sanctuaries of holy places. Once, they used to sit proudly on town commons, in front of town halls and even court houses and schools. They have largely disappeared from such places. Though they are still revered and prayed over by the faithful, manger scenes are being removed from the public arena. And when manger scenes are placed outdoors, the baby Jesus is often stolen from its crib. Unless it is chained down, as it is at the Catholic church in my home town, the baby Jesus is at risk of being taken away. Yes, the press dutifully reports such thefts and sometimes the dolls are returned. Often, they are not.

 

 Does this trouble me? In a way it does. But I remind myself of this: the clear message is the same as it was two thousand years ago: there is no room at the inn and "He came unto His own and His own received Him not." The theft of a ceramic figure of Jesus may cause sadness, but it should remind us of a world in which God could find no civilized place to be born; God could find no civilized place to be born.

 

 What kind of a world would deny warmth and shelter to a pregnant woman and her husband on a cold Winter's night? What kind of a world would leave the birth of a child to the poor shelter of a stable? What kind of a world? Do we know that world? Yes, I think we do.

 

This evening is very special to us all. Many of us, from our early lives as Christians, worship God in a very unaccountable way on this particular night. It is why, in the midst of this busy and often troubling world, we come to this holy place to experience once again the mystery of Christ's birth. There is no other way to say it; it is a mystery; it will always be a mystery because we can never fully understand it. We can certainly try. And we do try. Because we are curious, because we are human, because we are made in the image of God, we seek to know. We want to understand. Why, we ask ourselves, did this event happen? What does it say about God? And what does this say about us? Why, God, did you come to us in this particular way?

 

 There are a few things we can know about that night long ago in Bethlehem. There was a journey; a small family traveled to a certain city because they were required to do so. The government had mandated this. And there was a birth; a child was born. This child had, like all children, very particular parents. And, we understand, this child was born in a stable. These are the what we might call the empirical or concrete facts of the story. There doesn't seem to be much here. It is simple. And it is easily overlooked. Certainly, the world overlooked it then.

 

 But there is something much more profound at work here. God does not come among us in triumph and great glory – at least as the world understands such things. God does not create laws that will compel people to worship Him or send earthquakes and tidal waves to signal his birth. He sends only Himself; a weak and frail little baby, born in a stable in an obscure region of the great Roman Empire and in a little-known town called Bethlehem.

 

 God becomes one with us in this act of profound love. God enters an indifferent and unfeeling world and offers it a love it could never comprehend.

 

 And at this particular moment- on this particular night, when we, too, stand at a stable in Bethlehem; when we look at what has been done for us; when we see the child who will never be taken from us; when we wonder at the mystery of a child who will sacrifice Himself for a world He loves beyond all reason, we may, in the deep stirrings of our hearts, know beyond all knowing that this is indeed God.

Amen.