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In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 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.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 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.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The stable has always intrigued me. Not the shepherds and wise men, so-called. Not Joseph and Mary. But the stable. The idea of it. The feel of it. The smell of it. The sounds within it. The earthiness and even vulgarity of such a setting for such a thing as we celebrate. I am taken with its fundamental humility. Holiness incarnate comes in a squealing child of questionable genetics born under unfortunate circumstance. God with us. God. With us. Deeply intimate with our humanity, exposure, vulnerability. Only a God such as this could have my allegiance—does have my allegiance.
Author Madeleine L’Engle refers to this strange occurrence in her book by the same title as “the Glorious Impossible.” Sprung from God’s holy imagination, human minds could not have conjured such a thing. It situates just beyond the limits of believability, beckoning our faith that this child holds the key to unlocking life’s great mysteries.
Once again Mary has reason to ponder these matters in her heart. As the story is told, you recall she did the same following Gabriel’s announcement; that is, she set to pondering. In the face of such an astonishing occurrence, pondering seems an appropriately humble posture. We can benefit from a lot more of it.
Among the things we might ponder includes the path this child will walk as he grows into adulthood. How it begins in humility and ends in humility. And in between those bookends, a revelation of love that was higher, wider, deeper than any humans had yet imagined. This love would prove larger than death and, looping back to this night’s wonderment, how appropriate that this love begins in birth.
Glory to God in the highest heaven! All praise and thanksgiving to the One who comes clothed only in humility. Amen.
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Scripture Reading from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.