As I am writing this, we are glued to screens that feed us images of the destruction wrought on precious communities by the weather patterns of an unsettled planet.
Weeks ago, we watched images of flooded farmlands and towns, and highways torn up by mudslides and rising rivers. Even in Point Roberts, some of us are still cleaning and repairing flood damage in our homes.
These sudden, unexpected weather events can keep us on edge, wondering “What next? And where?” And life can seem tenuous. Some may ask, “Where is God in all this?”
In Luke’s gospel, we see that Jesus was born in tenuous times as well. All of Israel/Judea was under Roman rule; Caesar Augustus had just recently decided that it was time for a census, requiring people to journey to their birthplace in order to be “enrolled” for taxation purposes. Joseph and Mary had to journey on foot, likely with a small donkey to carry their supplies and the greatly pregnant Mary.
The trip from their home in Nazareth to Joseph’s birthplace of Bethlehem was, according to historians and biblical scholars, an arduous journey that would have taken one to two weeks, through wildlife-inhabited forests and the steep hills around Jerusalem. (The gospel lacks these details because the author would know that his audience was aware of them.)
They would have packed sparse (but still heavy) food and dressed for cold weather in heavy, cumbersome wool garments.
Since many people were making this same journey, there would be no guarantee of a place to stay either with a relative or in one of the inns in town or surrounding areas as they reached their destination. And the birth of their son was certainly not the holiday we celebrate today.
The same sources speculate that in reality, the stable they stayed in was likely inhabited by other travelers, as well as beasts of burden and sheep.
In fact, this remarkable event that the world now celebrates was pretty much a secret, known only to other travelers who shared the same shelter, and a few shepherds who, according to the author, witnessed an angelic concert above the hills outside of town; a revelation given specifically to them and no one else.
For Luke, this is the miracle; that God comes into the world as one who is lowly for the sake of the lowly. God is present in the human suffering of the devastation of homes and lives, whether by nature or for political gains.
God is present in our suffering, in our shock and trauma, and, ultimately, in our healing. This is the good news, not so much proclaimed by angels in our day, but in hearts that share sorrow and the work of rebuilding; those who organize to transport money and goods to neighborhoods in need, and those who do the giving and the working that makes all things new again.
As we move from a season of joy back into the everyday-ness of our lives, let us remain wide open to the coming of the Christ into our minds and hearts.
Jesus comes to us as we share the load, and celebrate that we are all in this together, and together we will make all things new! In this hope, and in this calling, we can wish each other a happy New Year, and God bless us all!
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