December 23, 2022 (The sixth day of the fourth week of Advent 2022)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“While they were there, the time came for her Child to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2.6-7)
What is the measure of authentic love? Let me suggest this “measure”: making the most and the best out of a difficult and seemingly impossible situation. Isn’t that what God has been doing for His people since the creation of humanity? When Eve succumbed to the temptation offered by the fallen Lucifer and lead Adam to join her in eating the forbidden fruit, death did come into their lives. Not only did death enter into their earthly experience, but so too did pain, suffering, hardship and the possibility of being separated from the love of God. Except God loved them so much He would not allow anything to separate them and keep them apart from each other nor from Him. It was an act of tough love, to be sure, but God so loved the world that He sacrificed a perfect lamb on their behalf. “While we were yet sinners, the perfect Lamb of God died for us” so that we might be reconciled to God. This happened because “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son into the world” to demonstrate the veracity of God’s love in a desire to save believers from a fate worse than death. That demonstration was not the elimination of the Law so that there would be nothing by which we would be convicted of transgression. Rather, that demonstration came in the fulfillment of the Law (the Shema) as He laid down His life for the sake of “the other.” So, as we read the story of the birth of God’s only begotten Son, we see how love made a way to evidence how a human being could demonstrate such a love, too, recognizing the debt we owe God that we cannot repay.
The seemingly impossible situation: A betrothed to be married girl who was pregnant with a child that did not belong to her betrothed travels nearly a hundred miles to a place she had never been before. She and her betrothed travel in a caravan of multinationals who have a similarity of identity which is being related to David who was of the house of Judah in Bethlehem. Such numbers of people descending on one place, which was a small hamlet by that time, would have easily overwhelmed it. The chances of finding a place of comfort for a girl who was nearly full term in which to rest, much less give birth to her child, would be slim. She may, in fact, not have been the only pregnant mother in the commanded census caravan. Finding themselves relegated to a stable which was a cave in the side of a hill on the outskirts of Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to be delivered of her Son. He was the One who would deliver her and all who believed in Him from their sins, Immanuel.
The possibility response of love: And this girl so believed in Immanuel as “God with us,” that she knew His love would make a way. She turned the stable into a delivery room. Fresh straw and hay were spread where old straw and dung had just been. A small fire was built to boil water and keep the cave warm from the chill of an early spring or late winter morning. A feeding trough was rid of oats and meal used to sustain the animals who shared the stable. Clean straw was laid in it to create a comfortable space to lay a new born child. Over the straw was laid a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, which Mary used to cover her head. It bore the colors of the House of David and had the symbol of a six-pointed star embroidered on it. What had just been seen as common ground was now made sacred. As in the days of Abraham who was challenged by God to offer his only begotten son, Isaac, in faith to be sacrificed, the elements for performing such a sacrifice were present. All that was needed was the sacrifice itself. Abraham acted in accordance to God’s will because he was a man of great faith. He was shaken to the very core of his being in doing so but his trust remained in the Lord. The Lord provided a substitutionary sacrifice in the moment of “deliverance” just as He had when the penalty of death would have come down on Adam and Eve in that long ago Garden. Now, in this stable found in the hillside of Bethlehem, was holy ground on which the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was to be born. The elements of sacrifice were present: fire, a sharpened knife, a stone slab on which to place the sacrifice. All that was missing was the sacrifice itself. In the early morning hours just before the sun rose on what may have been the third day following Passover of that year, Mary gave birth to her Son, her first born. The pot of water that was warmed by the fire allowed her to wash the child. A small flask of oil was used to anoint the baby to protect it from the elements as David had often done for the lambs in his flock. She laid Him in the manger and wrapped the tallit around Him. She lifted her eyes to Heaven and gave thanks to God knowing all the while God had so loved the world that He would not spare the life of His Son. He was the sacrifice. There would be no substitute given. And the eyes of all those who were in or near that stable watched in silence as Mary’s love for God, Immanuel, transformed a difficult and seemingly impossible situation into a glorious event. The hope of the world was born because God so loved the world that He, too, made the most of a difficult and seemingly impossible situation: a world gone mad with sin who had wandered far from Him and found itself lost in the Wilderness of Sin had a Savior, who is Christ the Lord whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
This is the story of Christmas. It is not Santa, reindeer and elves. It is not presents, trees and banquet tables. It is about those who lived as undeserving of mercy, grace and authentic love being treated with great respect, highest honor and worthy of God’s most precious gift of life eternal and abundant. It is the incarnation of God’s promise to be Immanuel- the God who is with us and within us. Christmas is about making holy what the world has made profane. It is about letting God be in control of our lives instead of the world and our desire to be master of it before it masters us. It is about true love unmatched by anything this world can provide or contrive. It is holy, holy, holy!
Father, for this gift of love we give You thanks and for the life it brings we are humbly grateful. AMEN.