Christmas 2018
Eleven months ago I was in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. The main entrance to the church is famously the “Door of Humility.” Originally built to keep camels and other large animals from wandering into the sacred space, it has been rebranded to remind us that in this place the very word of God took flesh and became small and vulnerable. The door is about four feet high and about two feet wide and I am both taller and wider. I was fearful the door of humility might be for me the door of humiliation. However, I contorted my way and entered the church that honors the birth of Jesus.
There were many small doors throughout the church I had to duck under. It is as if those seventh century Byzantines were not building a church for a large 21st century American. Eventually, we wended our way through beautiful chapels and came to the sacred site. We descended a set of stairs for the holiest places in the Holy Land are always below ground as cities have been literally built up in the last two thousand years. There beneath an altar, just a few feet away from the chapel of the manger is a fourteen pointed star that marks the very spot where Jesus was born. As awesome as that was, its significance deepened when my friend Fr. Tim reminded me this is not just where Jesus was born; this is where God entered the world.
Here was the moment that changed the world forever, a cosmic moment. For here the creator of humanity became human; here the division between God and humanity collapsed into one; here, the membrane that separates heaven from earth disappeared. Here everything changed. Peace and divine grace invade the world. It is the miracle that makes all other miracles possible. All because a baby was born right here.
But there is something remarkably ordinary about this extraordinary event. For all the miracles that surround the birth – the annunciation that proclaims the virgin Mary is to have a child, a host of angels singing of glory to shepherds in the fields a mile away, a star above the stable that will draw wise men bearing gifts, nothing that miraculous occurs at the birth. Luke only tells us, “She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” Even the sign given the shepherds by the angel is underwhelming. “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” In other words, go into town and you will find a baby dressed like a baby.
But I would stop short of saying the birth is not miraculous. I’d rather say that Jesus shared with us the same miracle that began our lives. He entered the world just as each one of us did. For it is life he shared with us and life he treasured. We are to do the same with the miracle of our birth.
There is a prayer said silently at the altar as the water mixes with the wine. “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” We are lifted up to the space of divinity as Christ takes on the flesh of humanity. And all we are, despite our faults, sins and shortcomings are capable of containing and even exuding God. God entered the world in one place so God could be every place. And now the very air we breathe is shot full of peace and grace and love. The miracle of Christmas is the transformation of the ordinary.
So let us be clear as to what we are celebrating here. Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation and as Jesus took on our flesh we now share in his Spirit. His incarnation is now lived out among us, by us, so that we might be Christ for others. The flesh that Mary held in her arms that first Christmas is the flesh we extend our hands to others in service. The cry he let out attunes our ears to the tears and the heartbreak of the world. The joy of the Mary and Joseph is the joy we share with the world for our God is not foreign and we are not forgotten. Our God is among us! Christmas is a part of us for Jesus is a part of us. Let his incarnation remind us the irreplaceable beauty and love of each of us possesses. Let us be the incarnation and Christmas the world awaits for his flesh is our flesh, his peace is our peace and his love is our love.