God became human

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Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Eve 2010
Isaiah 9.2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20

Light is more clearly seen in darkness. Jesus is the light that has come into the world in all of its chaos. Tonight we come seeking the baby in the manger, not fully understanding the work and presence of God in our midst. The manger is where we will find the love of God in human flesh. What a mysterious and profound gift, “for the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2.11).” Merry Christmas, Heart River.



Grace and peace to you from the One who has been made known to us in human flesh, God with us, Immanuel.  Amen.

Merry Christmas Heart River! It is good to be with you this night, the night in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Like the birth of any child, there is deep mystery, joy, and wonder all wrapped up in the pain and messiness of birth.

It is within this last year in which I have come to understand the birth of Jesus in a new way, and it is because of the birth of my goddaughter and niece, Rebekah. Rebekah was born to my husband Ben’s sister, Katie and her husband Seth. All throughout Katie’s pregnancy Ben would lean over to her womb and say, “Rebekah, remember, be born on February 27…I want to share my birthday with you.” Rebekah’s due date happened to be March 1, so we all knew it was a possibility.

After the earthquake in Haiti, in which Ben died, we all anticipated the birth of Rebekah in our deep sadness and grief. I contemplated whether or not I wanted Rebekah to be born on Ben’s birthday, a day that would hold such sadness for us all. The night before Rebekah’s birth Katie said, “There is no way this baby is coming tomorrow. She’s somersaulting around and not in position to be born.” Even though I wasn’t sure I wanted her to be born on Ben’s birthday, I leaned over to Katie’s belly anyway and said, “Okay, Rebekah, Ben wanted to share his birthday with you, so February 27 is the day. Get to it girl.” Three hours later Katie went into labor and Rebekah was born on February 27, 2010.

Sometimes it is a good thing we don’t have a choice about certain things, like when babies decide to enter the world. Rebekah’s birth held all kinds of confusion and certainty, along with pain and joy for me. I could only wonder at what her birth on Ben’s birthday could hold for me and my family. It is in this wonderment in which I think of the words from Luke this night about Mary.

After the shepherds found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and told of their incredible and somewhat scary encounter with the angels in the field, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).” Nine months earlier Mary was visited by an angel who said she would give birth to a son. This wouldn’t be any ordinary boy. The angel said to Mary, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:32-33)."
For nine months Mary carried the one who would bring peace to all the earth, the one through whom we would know that God is in fact with us. Yet, she gives birth like any other woman, except it is not in the comfort of her own home or a hospital or even a bed, but out in the open with no one there but some animals and her husband. Jesus, born like any other human being, mucusy, bloody, and crying, wrapped in cloth and laid in an animal feeding trough. This is less than ideal for anyone’s standards.

Then some shepherds show up and share their story of the army of angels appearing in the sky, praising God and singing, sharing the news of this new baby for the whole world. These shepherds were fringe people. Economically poor, typically the bottom rung of the social ladder, nomads in a way, and sleeping with pretty dirty, stinky animals. How curious it is that they were the ones chosen to behold the glory of God with the angels and to be the first witnesses of the birth, essentially of God. Crazy.

So this stuff is our situation here. We probably don’t think of the birth of Jesus as such a mess and a little bit chaotic. I can hardly imagine what it must have been like for Mary. The Greek word for Mary pondering the words of the shepherds and all the whirlwind of events that had just taken place in her life is symballo. It literally means, “to throw together.” Mary takes it all in and seeks to understand what has just taken place. To find meaning and process it all.

This is where I can relate to Mary and how I think about Rebekah’s birth and ultimately the birth of Jesus. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I was the second person to hold Rebekah even before her father. Rebekah, slimy from the mucus covering her and simply beautiful, her eyes struggled to stay open and see the world for the first time, as she laid totally vulnerable in my arms. I was so full of wonder holding and gazing at this new born baby, as I felt the pain in my chest with the absence of Ben.

I tried to ponder, or throw together, all that had happened, was happening, and will happen. I wanted to understand or make sense of it all, death and life. Whether I liked it or not, Rebekah was already involved in the mess of hardship and death. I couldn’t protect her from it or control the day on which she was born. I held a miracle of life in my arms and marveled at the joy, mystery, and vulnerability in it all, and knew it was a great a gift to me and Ben’s family that would continue to unfold.

What a mystery it is that God would become human. God came into the world as a vulnerable new born baby, subject to illness, disease, violence, and death just like every other human being. It seems as if human beings keep seeking a mighty warrior God that can crush enemies and fix all that is wrong in the world when we are to be the shepherds in search of what has been revealed, in search of a God that we can touch and cradle in our arms.

On one level, God becoming human doesn’t make any sense, and on another level it makes all the sense in the world. How could we come to love and trust a God that has no idea about the obstacles and temptations we face each day? Or a God that doesn’t know what it is like to weep and feel the sting of loneliness and loss? Or a God that doesn’t know what it is like to die?

What an interesting God we have in which we are called to ponder and seek to understand. Like Mary, we don’t fully understand what the birth of Jesus is for us and for the world, but we know it is God’s greatest gift to us. God gives to us God’s very self in order that we might grow to love and trust God. There is no greater gift and no greater love than this.

The birth of Jesus is not something we have to “get” or fully understand. It is good to simply hold it close to our chest and breathe it in deep. A child has been born for you, a son has been given for the sake of the whole world.

I know that all of you who will be going back to cottages this evening are not celebrating Christmas with your families and that is really hard. The shepherds in the story were not with their families either when Jesus was born, yet they were the first ones to witness the birth of Jesus and to tell about it. God works and is present in all places, particularly places of loneliness and difficulty. We know this because God became human. Earlier we heard in Isaiah, “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 (Isaiah 9.2).”

Light is more clearly seen in darkness. Jesus is the light that has come into the world in all of its chaos. Tonight we come seeking the baby in the manger, not fully understanding the work and presence of God in our midst. The manger is where we will find the love of God in human flesh. What a mysterious and profound gift, “for the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2.11).” Merry Christmas, Heart River.