God was born.
Just let that sink in. The architect of galaxies and protons, the maker of hard iron and tender flesh, the infinite, all-powerful source from which all things come to be and upon which the entire cosmos depends, became a human. And God did it just like the rest of us did.
Jesus grew day by day in the dark warmth of Mary’s womb. Bumping along with her every stride, slumbering and waking to the rhythms of her heart, nudging her from within with tiny feet and sharp little elbows when his cozy home started feeling cramped.
And then, on a specific day in history, in a particular place on this very planet, God was born.
How weird is that! God brought all of time and space into being from nothingness. That same God was born in an obscure corner of a tiny blue speck floating in the midst of a universe so vast that we measure its distances in light years.
Theologians have been wrestling with how this could be for centuries. Among other things, that’s how we got the doctrine of the Trinity. And those theologians might remind us that it was the Son—the Second Person of the Trinity—who became incarnate. Christians of a liturgical stripe say this routinely when we recite the Nicene Creed.
By contrast, Luke simply takes our breath away with the story of a baby being born. A human baby like any baby. Only, not just any baby. That baby was God. So listen to Luke’s implied punchline one more time:
God was born. And because God was born, nothing will be the same ever again. You see, God wasn’t born just for the heck of it. God was born for us.
That’s what the angels told a group of shepherds: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, 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.” (Luke 2:11-12)
Mary and Joseph had traveled from Nazareth to Joseph’s familial home, Bethlehem, by order of Caesar Augustus. The Emperor wanted to count all of his subjects. Like most people I know, I used to think that the expectant mother and her husband had traveled alone to Bethlehem. Once there, the motels were full, so she gave birth in a barn.
Sarah Bessey taught me that, given the customs of the day, it’s likely that Joseph and Mary had traveled with a large group of family members. And once they got to their destination, they weren’t exactly turned away by an innkeeper as we might think of it today.
Travelers stayed in the guest room of local homes. Joseph and Mary arrived only to find out that the guest room was already occupied. So, the homeowner let them stay in the public area of his house. They stayed under that innkeeper’s roof, only in what might be called the family room.
Now in those days, people kept their livestock in that part of the house, so it was certainly a bit homey. But it was also cozy. All those accompanying aunts and uncles and cousins crowded in with them. And when Mary’s time came, the older, experienced women leapt into action as Jesus’s midwives. As God’s midwives.
God became a human to make us whole. From the very beginning, God created us to be one with us. As Richard Rohr likes to put it, Jesus was not God’s Plan B for the creation. God did not send Jesus to solve the unforeseen problem of sin. In the very person of Jesus, God achieves the perfect union of human and divine. When contemplating the creation, Jesus was God’s very first thought.
To be clear, the long and painful arc of human history has left us wounded and lonely, grief-stricken and burdened with regret. We yearn for peace with our neighbors and tranquility in our hearts. So, God’s long-awaited birth brings healing.
The baby Jesus was born of Mary over two thousand years ago. And yet, our union with God remains incomplete. We are not at peace in our world or in our souls. But don’t despair. Baby Jesus cannot be born again, but the risen Jesus can be and yearns to be born on this planet every day in you and me. We are God’s midwives here on Earth.
When we feed the hungry and help addicts get sober. When we encourage a child and forgive the one who broke our heart. When we hold a lonely hand, cry with a grieving friend, and laugh with an unlikely stranger, God is born. When we love, the risen Christ comes into this world.
You see, the Christmas story is still being written. God is still being born. And we are crucial characters in that story. We are God’s midwives.
I wonder if Sarah read Kenneth Bailey’s works… we shared a video series he did, “A Clear View of the Birth of Jesus” which discusses this very thing.
That’s exactly who she referenced.
In the ‘70’s, I wrote a song about the Innkeeper’s wife who tended to the birth. Mary would not have been left to herself or Joseph, but a woman of experience. (I was an OBS. RN then.) In my Crèche I put a figure of an older woman with a spinning wheel to represent this ennobled woman.
I love it!!
Dear Bishop Jake, what a beautiful Christmas refection. Reminds me of Paul’s “Christ IN ME, the hoe of glory!”
A Blessed Christmas to You and Yours
And a blessed, joy-filled Christmas to you, Fr. Ron!
Interesting – I’d never thought of the possibility of the barn manger being within a real home. I’ve read about animals living in rooms with families in different countries but didn’t make this connection.
Sarah Bessey helped me see clearly this year how the setting shapes the whole Christmas story. Merry Christmas!
The ‘midwives’ thread through this lesson is very interesting Jake! Nice how you’ve developed the idea and managed to impress even me (who actually doesn’t possess a shred of so-called maternal instinct). Have a very happy Christmas and thanks for all the inspiration you’ve shared this year 🙂
Merry Christmas, Liz! Our friendship has been a gift!
Yes Jake, it really has.. Merry Christmas!
A lovely fresh perspective on a 2000+ year old event..helping put the Christ back in Christmas.
Thanks, Jake. Have a blessed Christmas!
Merry Christmas, Sanders
Bishop Jake, thank you for this gently reminder of details that are often forgotten. Having a midwife was very essential for Mary and Joseph. “When we hold a lonely hand, cry with a grieving friend, and laugh with an unlikely stranger, God is born.” This is such a profound statement!
MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and your beautiful family!!
And a blessed Christmas to you and yours
One of our former priests preached a sermon during Advent on this very subject: “Who was Mary’s midwife?” It really made me stop and think ~ she HAD to have had help and it wouldn’t have been Joseph! This just solidifies that. Thank you! I will be sharing this on Facebook. ♥
Thanks, Carole. Merry Christmas
This is a beautiful reminder of the reason for the season. Yes, we joyfully celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior during Christmas, but we also need to remember that there was a reason for this miracle, this new connection between God and humankind…and that reason is us. How does Jesus’ example make a difference in our lives?
Amen and merry Christmas
Just love the story of God coming to live with us, not with fanfare but utterly like and with the people of His day, quietly in a stable. We need to get over our self promotion and live like He did if we call ourselves Christian.
Thank you Fr Jake, for this lovely perspective on Christmas; encouraging me always to expand my view! Thank you and Blessings!
Thank you, Carolyn! Blessed Christmastide and Happy New Year!
Thank you! What a fabulous new understanding of the situation! If is a real call to awareness! Deacon Belle
I read this last year and it continues to make so much sense to me. It’s really sweeter and more welcoming than the traditional story which has them all alone with a bunch of farm animals.
Thanks, Nancy! When I learned about it I had the same response.