In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 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. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 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.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
"Comfort, comfort my people. Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places, plain." This advent season, doesn't comfort sound wonderful? In a world not so unlike the world into which Jesus was born, a world of insecurity, and fear, and worry... couldn't we all stand to have our valleys and hills, our obstacles, just made easier to tackle- and the rough places in our lives, well, smoothed out? It's been a rough year.
A few days ago I overheard a woman having a phone conversation in a store, and she was saying, "I just can't feel it this year. I keep thinking, if I do this or that, then I'll be in the spirit, but then I do it, I bake, or decorate, or write cards, and I still don't feel it. I need to feel the joy," and by this time she was crying, "I want to feel Christmas!"
Her words left me feeling helpless. I wanted so badly to give her a word of encouragement, to tell her she is loved and valued, to share with her that God was willing to be humbled and made flesh and dwell among us- that Jesus came to earth for HER, for all of us! I wanted to invite her here tonight, so that she could be among us and feel the love we share in this place. I wanted to personally spoon feed her a dose of Pepe positivity!
And trust me, I thought about it. I hovered, waiting for her to get off the phone. I shopped in departments I wouldn't normally go to, waiting for her to get off the phone. I was getting anxious, rehearsing what I would say to her if she would ever get off the phone- and thought even about interrupting her to ask her a question about the Eagles shirts in her cart, or the shelf of tackle boxes i was pretending to shop for so I could start a conversation. But the more she talked the more I realized what she was really looking for was h that isn't manufactured by baking or decorating.
In the days since, I've had several conversations with people echoing the same sentiment- "I just don't feel Christmas this year." And I don't believe its from lack of trying. Christmas is a feeling we enjoy- and we have developed over the years a certain expectation for how we are supposed to feel- based on years past when we have felt elated, joyful, and full of hope and cheer. But as we said, the world is full of insecurity, and fear, and worry. It's not like all of our problems go away, or can be put aside to swap out for the joy of Christmas.
Mary and Joseph, a scared, worried couple, made their way to a town called Bethlehem. It was not of their own will that they went. A government order went out and they were required to go, to be registered, assessed, and then taxed. This was not a joyful journey. They were being classified- put into a box with others in their socio economic bracket- after this registration, there would be a certain way they would be seen and known and labeled and stereotyped. It would change the way they saw themselves. And for the rest of their lives they would be paying, and scrimping, and worrying about where the next tax payment would come from. Mary being 9 months pregnant surely didn't help. Oh sure, I know there was a visit from an angel- I know Joseph had a dream, but that was so long ago... the heavenly hosts had been silent for months. They had to be questioning- wondering- had they just imagined the whole thing? Was this really a God event?
With Mary's time fast approaching, they stepped forward in faith, inching toward bustling Bethlehem. I'm not sure that they 'felt Christmas" any more than the woman on the phone in the store.
So where does it come from, this feeling we yearn for each Christmas season?
Maybe we need to fast forward for the answer. Perhaps it's not his birth, but Jesus's resurrection that helps us understand where our joy comes from... through the risen Christ we understand God's great love for us, and everything that means to each of us. The resurrection is the "culmination of the promise of Christmas. The end. The win! Christ is risen! And in Christ we are reborn- we have a fresh start- a new understanding of God's love for us- we recognize that nothing can separate us from the love of God- ever!! And because of that truth we think differently, act differently, live differently!
But at Christmas, all of that seems so far away. Our journey with Jesus has just begun. Like Mary and Joseph, we're still looking for everything to be ok- we're looking for God to come to us and live with us and speak to us, and yes, to comfort us. God please- make our rough places plain. Make a straight path for us. Like Mary and Joseph, what you and I have, here, at the beginning, is the hope of God's promise of resurrection. It is the hope of what Jesus will bring. The hope of what Christ will do.
It is not accident that Christmas comes during the darkest days of the solar year. when the world is at it's darkest, the light of Christ is needed the most. And I don't know where you might be this Christmas. Whether you are celebrating the promise, and clinging to one shred of hope which brought you here- but I do know this. The God of promise, the Christ of Christmas, can shine light into your life. God is bigger than whatever mountains hardship and valleys of grief your climbing through. Christ can smooth the rough places in your life, and not with a magic wand or a wish- but with a whisper. "I love you" God says- no matter who you are or where you've been or what you've done- I love you.
And you don't need to "feel Christmas" for that love to manifest itself in you, because it's always there. God is always working toward resurrection in your life- you only need to realize it, listen to the divine voice in inside, and embrace it...