Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
December 24, 2020
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
This is the moment in the story when the tableau is complete. The child with his parents in silent bliss, the shepherds looking on with adoration, the farm animals gathered to see this curious phenomenon. Perhaps off in the distance you can catch a glimpse of camels and exotic travellers, richly attired, making their painstaking journey under the star. In the stable the cattle are lowing, and as we have sung so many times in our lives – ‘the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.’ This is a precious moment for Christians, celebrated year after year through the centuries. Christmas Eve brings memories of childhood, of carols sung together, and meals shared. We bake our grandmothers’ cookies and set the table with old silver. We pull out the old ornaments too and listen to favourite music. Recall gifts given and received. Our Christmas traditions reassure us that we live in a known world, and that that world is reliable, and safe. We even call the baby Emmanuel, God-with-us. How much safer can you be? Christmas is a festival of familiarity. Of comfort and joy.
Of course it was completely different for them. So far from home. Never had a baby before. A great awkwardness between husband and wife at the beginning of their marriage. Now travel-weary, and inhabiting a stable, and visited by a curious assortment of strangers. Nothing was familiar at all in Bethlehem. They had lots to be worried about, and no way to predict what would happen next. It was the opposite of what we think of as Christmas.
In this strange year of isolation and anguish, perhaps we are closer to them than usual. Between the covid pandemic that affects all of us – our neighbours, our whole world – and the slow but steady approach of the redevelopment project here at Bloor Street, we too are quite a distance from our comfort zone this Christmas. All our traditions are disrupted – the family visits postponed, church on ZOOM, the Christmas music put together with miracles of technology. Even the sacrament of communion celebrated remotely rather than in person. The pandemic has not abated yet. We don’t know how things will go. It is all so weird, and so hard to accept. As we head into a new year, we are facing so many unknowns, and some of them dangerous.
But perhaps this is just the point – the arrival of the Christ child doesn’t bring peace to a peaceful planet, or healing to a world where everyone is healthy, or hope to those who are just fine. The quiet baby brings a promise of peace, and healing, and hope to a world that needs them. To this world. To each of us. We savour the precious moment and give God thanks.