“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” – Luke 2:10
In 2014 I had the opportunity to spend several weeks in the Holy Land. One of my favorite memories from that pilgrimage is visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The doors to the Church of the Nativity are very small, only 4 feet high. To enter the church, one has to stoop down to make their way through the entrance. There are some historical reasons the church has such small doorways, such as to keep out livestock and to keep the church a reasonable temperature, but now the doors to the Church of the Nativity have taken on a special meaning. It is said that as you enter the church you are reminded how God poured out God’s own power and stooped low to become fully human.
Christmas reminds us that God comes into the world not with stormy triumph and might, but with quietness, unexpectedly, wrapped in humility and grace. God is revealed not through the birth of kings and generals, but in the face of a poor peasant baby, born in a stable. In a world not too unlike our own, a world filled with uncertainty and fear, God reveals perfect love through the simple and unsophisticated birth of Jesus.
In one of his famous Christmas poems, Malcolm Guite put it this way:
Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, the outhouse of the inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.
And from this day our world is re-aligned
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The end begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.
Christmas begins on the edge. On the edge of town, on the edge of society, in a far-flung forgotten corner of the world, in a little village, in an outpost of the empire. In a barn, out back. Christmas begins in the fields, with shepherds and livestock. It begins with a poor woman and her fiancé from the cowtown of Nazareth.
One of the lessons of Christmas is that God shows up exactly when and where we need God the most. God shows up on the edge; on the edge of society, on the edge of poverty, on the edge of a broken relationship, a lost job, an estranged family member, in the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one. God shows up on the edge, and then re-centers, realigns hope, peace, joy, and love, in that very place. Christmas moves the margins to the center.
This season reminds us that in Christ, all things are realigned. The hopelessness of this world, despair and grief, sin and sorrow are now brought to the fore, banished from the margins and made whole, redeemed in the baby who will make all things new.
On this Christmas, in a time of such uncertainty and despair, the angels say to us what they said to the shepherds those 2,000 years ago: Fear not! I bring you good tidings of great joy! Love has come into the world.
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Rector