The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Nine months ago, my family welcomed a new little baby girl into our lives. Since then, I have learned a lot of important life lessons on unconditional love, God’s grace, and my own ability to do things that I never imagined. However, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is this: people love babies. You walk into a room with a baby, and the people swarm around you. Well, that’s your first thought, but you’re quickly disabused of that belief; they are really swarming the baby. They make the silliest faces and noises, all in an effort to get the baby to smile, and they say the kindest, sweetest things.
After a few minutes, there is this awkward moment when everyone realizes that the thing holding the baby - the baby’s stand, if you will – is actually a living creature, a human even, and perhaps that needs to be acknowledged with some small talk, but really, we all know it is a ruse: it’s all about the baby. This isn’t a lament. I do the same thing, always have, and probably always will: I just didn’t realize before that I did it, until I became the stand holding the baby.
Babies are cute. Babies are adorable. Babies are tender and sweet. And that is partly why we love this Christmas story so much: it’s about a baby. It’s a sweet story of the holy infant, so tender and mild, sleeping in heavenly peace. We set out our crèche and put the baby Jesus in the middle. Everyone gathers around to see this baby: the parents, the shepherds, the magi, and the animals. They all swarm the baby, if you will.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t just a story about a cute baby, is it? This isn’t just any baby that was born in that manger over two thousand years ago. This baby is the Son of God. This baby is the incarnation of God. Literally, God became flesh. On this most holy night, God became one of us. Through the incarnation, God is in solidarity with us. God now knows about our life, our suffering, our joy, because God experienced it all, too. God loves us so much that God said, I want to spend time with you, as one of you, I want to know what it’s all about, Knowing the ups and the downs, and all the time in-between, the boring, mundane times. Through this incarnation, God knows what it is like to be utterly dependent on another person as all infants are, to put one’s full trust in someone else. God knows what it is like to receive the unconditional love of a parent, and to give the unconditional love of a baby. God knows what it is like to grow up - to be a toddler, a child, a youth, an adult. God knows what it is like to laugh and love and cry and mourn. God knows what it is like to suffer pain, and to die. In our own pain and suffering, we have a God who understands, a God who has been there. In our own joy and celebration, we have a God who lived and laughed and loved.
It isn’t just about solidarity, though, about being able to weep with us in our sorrow, and smile with us in our joy. By knowing a bit more about the life we live, God can truly be the light to shine in the darkness of it all. “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,” says Isaiah tonight. In this cold, dark December, when our televisions are full of sad news of a dark, dark world, we have this bright light of God’s love shining: a light that can bring hope to the hopeless. And so, in the still darkness of this night, and in the darkness of our lives, in the sorrow, the pain, the tragedy, hold onto this bright light that is shining. Celebrate this bright light that is shining. For the darkness will not and cannot overcome the bright light of this baby, this sweet, tender little baby, around whom we all swarm tonight.