A voice has cried out. In the darkness. Amongst the hay. A song of hope. It sounds like a scream but it rings of new life. And it leaks like a night-light between the cracks of barn board.
I wonder what it was like for Joseph? Hearing that voice. Did it wake him? So exhausted from the coaching and the pushing. Or was he there the whole time. With each squeeze and release. Each push and growl. Waiting with eyes the size of planets.
What about Mary? So young but strong. Did she rush into the stable like a wheel-chaired woman dilated at 10 or did she sit in that cold straw for hours, brushing the spiders off her knees? Did flies bite her bare breasts and legs and toes, as the contractions tore into her? She must have worn a trench in that mud floor. Walking lap after lap, only to pause and breathe her way through the pain. I wonder if Joseph was close by holding her hips or did she just need some space to do this? It’s hard work you know. Giving birth to something. Whether it be a child or a dream. You never know how it’s going to go.
We don’t know any of the answers to these questions. Luke never really says what it was like. For a story that is supposed to be all about Jesus, it’s a poorly scripted screenplay. Did you notice that? The whole thing takes two verses:
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.
That’s it. That’s all we get. Two verses. And the baby isn’t even given a name. Jesus isn’t the star of this show; he’s a cameo.
That’s kind of like Jesus though, isn’t? Not to make it all about himself. Always concerned about other people and what they are up to. Instead the real stars of the show are the shepherds. The ones out in the fields. The ones watching over their flocks by night. That’s how we know them. But they were known by other titles. The outsiders and low-lifes. The bottom rung, discard-able people. They were the liars and thieves; the degenerates and a waste of space. Lumped together with the tax collectors and prostitutes, shepherds were perpetual sinners. The unclean folk.
You can imagine how it is for them. Out in the fields. Kept away from the towns. Abandonment issues abound. Shunned by the regulars; discarded to the dogs. It would be hard to have any faith in God, I suppose – not being welcome in the Temple and all, with such dirty hands. They had probably given up on God, just so they get one with their so-called life.
And yet, here they are. Front and center of God’s story. With God’s angels above them and 12 whole verses, and even with words to speak. They are the stars in this story of God’s coming into this world. I wonder what that was like for them – giving up on God, yet God not giving up on them? They became the first to know of God coming into the world. The last become first. That’s how it is with God.
“You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying a manger,” the angels sang to them. And they did.
For miles, they ran. As they drew closer, they could hear the glow of a baby’s cry. They were no longer shepherds; they were light chasers. And with a couple of taps on the sidewall, they were welcomed into this stable turned nursery. It was nice to have visitors, Joseph thought.
They didn’t stay long. But they left changed. And that light. The one found in baby Jesus’ cry. They became carriers of it. Bringing word to the world of this baby born the savior of the world. They were like a candle passing flame to other candles. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. Not in this place anyways. And certainly not singing.
So that’s the story. Of God coming into the world. A little bit of Jesus with a whole lot of outcasts. Don’t blink because it’s fleeting. Just like tonight. One verse more and Jesus is already 12 and teaching in a temple.
So let’s take a moment and drink it in. Let it wash over us and wonder where we fit in the story. Who are you in this story? Which part are you playing? Are you, Mary? Are you giving birth to God into this world? Or are you Joseph, the father and midwife, helping others give birth to God in this world? Or maybe you are the shepherds – having given up on God but suddenly you find God coming to you with good news to spread around.
But to ask such questions can bring more clutter to your life. And this season is already so full of clutter. Final exams and dysfunctional families. Gifts to buy and rooms that just never get cleaned. Credit card bills and shards of wrapping paper. Funeral planning and Christmas concerts. Perhaps even these words have only added to the clutter. So, no more questions. Let’s get to the point: God’s coming into the world. And you’re involved. You’re always involved. And always have been. Sometimes it’s a train wreck and it can get pretty messy out there. In the life of God. But it can get pretty beautiful too. Like a napping newborn on the nape of your neck. Or strangers pushing your car out of the snow.
Who are you in this story? I like to think that it is a combination of all three. God’s like that. Giving people what they need but also using those same people to give others what they need. I like to think we play all the parts – Mary, Joseph, Shepherds. We all participate in God being born into this world. For as Meister Eckhart, a 14th Century mystic, once said, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God, and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture?…God is always needing to be born.” I mean that’s what this story is all about. God coming into the world. Not in magic and flare, but in flesh and blood. Dipped in amniotic fluid. Not yesterday, or last year, or 2,000 years ago, but today. Right now. And tomorrow too.
And, however it happens, God being born into this world, you’re involved. I don’t know how exactly. That’s your job to figure out. All I know is that this thing. This life of God? It’s got your fingerprints all over it. It’s a part of you and you a part of it. You have been involved for some time now. Since the first time the world heard your voice crying out. A song of hope exiting those young lungs of yours. A ray of light seeping through the barn boards, or the hospital walls. Huh. Looks like you’re playing the part of Jesus too.
 I am indebted to Marc Ostlie-Olson for this insight.