“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.” Those are some of the most familiar words in all of the Scriptures. They are simple and straight-forward words, and yet there is something amazing and maybe even stunning about them. They seem, all by themselves, to exude a profound sense of holy serenity and peace, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger.” There’s a quietness and a sense of peace about those words that almost certainly belies what must have been the normal reality of that blessed night.
It has been a long time now, but a huge part of my life story has been the privilege of being present at two births. Neither one of them was quiet or peaceful. Not much was blissful. Not much was serene. Nothing was accompanied by the strains of “Silent Night, Holy Night” playing softly in the background. But in spite of all of the pain and the labor, and the tears and the frustrations and the helplessness that Meg endured when Karis and Kristen entered this world, there was also an undeniable and awesome sense of participating with God, in a miracle. And in that, there was peace. And soon, that miracle is going to happen all over again, because I am going to be a grand-pa!
No birth, not even the birth of our Lord, comes without tears, pain, frustration and helplessness. And yet, when the story of Jesus birth is told, Luke does not focus our attention on the completely unsuitable conditions under which our blessed Lord entered this world, nor are we introduced to the cries of Mary as she labored in a strange place, far from home. And this is all the more remarkable, because the story of Jesus’ birth is told to us by a physician. Luke must have attended scores of births, and could probably have very likely recounted the unique circumstances of every one of them.
And yet when Luke tells us this story, albeit from the constraints of time and distance, he chooses to leave out the grisly details of the pain and the suffering that Mary surely endured. Instead he presents us with a quiet, peaceful, and serene picture of profound holiness.
Why do you suppose that Luke chose to relate the story in this way? Partly, I think he did it this way because he knew that we ourselves could fill in all of the grisly details on our own. Baby having, while it is a miracle every single time it happens, is not a new miracle. As a physician, Luke knew this, and so do we. We all know what birth is like; we all know what to expect. Karis is awaiting that even now.
It is, perhaps, a bit of a stretch, but I believe that Luke presents us with a quiet, peaceful, serene and even holy picture of Jesus’ birth, because he’s telling us the story of the coming into the world of the heavenly Prince of Peace. Sure, Jesus’ birth was messy; sure, it was loud, but in the midst of it all, there was peace. And the peace was present in the form of a tiny baby, too small to be God in our eyes, but fully God in every way imaginable. This baby boy is the Son of the Living God, come to earth to bring peace to our lives.
If you are here tonight, it is because you have listened to God, pure and simple. Your lives are busy. But you have come here tonight to taste once again the quiet serenity and the holiness of this moment. It is a conscious choice that you have made. You are here to sing God’s praises, to hear anew the words of the Scriptures, and, most importantly, to experience the presence of the Prince of Peace.
I am sure that there is lots of stuff that still needs to be done before Christmas can come to our houses tomorrow morning. But for now, we are here, and so let us savor it; let us catch hold of the holiness of this moment, and allow the Prince of Peace to fill our hearts and to direct our lives in the ways of peace. For that is what we and our world so desperately need to learn.
I suppose that it is no secret that we have created something of a monster out of our celebrations of Christmas. We completely transform our houses, inside and out; we cook mountains of food; we shop in gift-laden jungles, and we hope against hope that Uncle Billy will behave himself this year. We willingly invite chaos into our homes. And we are unlikely to change that. We’ve come to value the tradition, even if it completely exhausts us.
And so alongside of our own chaotic observances of Christmas, we have the story that Luke tells, intentionally told in terms that evoke serenity and peace and holiness, that become possible even in the chaotic environment of the birth of our Lord. Luke wants us to know that one of the messages of Christmas is that peace can come, even in the midst of chaos.
Perhaps by the time that Mary wrapped Jesus in those bands of cloth and laid him in the manger, there was some peace. I’m sure that the peace of the Holy Spirit filled that birthing place, whatever it was. Certainly there was a new peace between Mary and Joseph after a very destructive engagement that very nearly separated them forever. But the greatest peace that Luke intends for us to discover is the peace that comes to us when the Christ-child enters into our hearts. This tiny baby is our savior. He has come to this earth to reconcile us to God, to abolish all enmity between ourselves and God, to give us eternal life, and to create an atmosphere of peaceful anticipation of that great Day to come, when all wrongs will be righted, and the Prince of Peace will reign forever. So what is left? Let us allow the dear Christ to enter in. We need not abandon all of the carefully orchestrated chaos that we invite at this time of year, but rather, like Mary and Joseph did we must allow the serenity of the Prince of Peace to enter into that chaos. And then, the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Jesus, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. Amen.