That first Christmas Eve, so Luke tells us, shepherds were out in the fields at night.
It is probably hard for those of us born after electricity to truly understand how dark night was back then; no light other than that of the stars and moon, and perhaps a fire. It was very dark, and the dark was a scary place.
Suddenly, the sky was bright, bright with the glory of the Lord shining around an angel, bright with the host of heavens singing praise to God. Suddenly, the shepherds went from darkness into light.
In the story of creation, we are told that God walked in the garden with man and woman: This was God’s desire from the beginning.
God wanted to be with us, to be a partner in our life. But, of course, the story of our Scripture is the story of our turning away from God, and the story of God calling us back, over and over and over again. With the birth of Jesus, God once again walked on Earth with us. God ate with us, drank with us, laughed and cried, worked and played. God said that for all time God would not let us be separated, that we were made to be in relationship with God and with one another, and that nothing we did could frustrate this plan. It was God’s plan from the beginning to be with us.
And so we celebrate this reality of God and of creation this day, this Christmas Day.
The reality of Christmas, the lesson of the Incarnation, is that God loves us so much that God became one of us. Not in some imaginary way, not in some sort of spiritual way, but in a real and physical way.
This is foundational to Christian belief that God became human out of love, and actually lived as a man and died as a man. Not because God was curious or wanted to deceive us, but because God loves us, and wanted to show us God’s plan for creation in a way that we could hear, and see, and understand.
Christmas is a present from God to all of us.
This present from God is wrapped not in pretty paper, but in the complexity of a God who chose to come among us as a baby. The complexity of a God who chose to show us God’s authority not by demanding service, but by giving service. The complexity of a God who chose to demonstrate power not through force, but by love.
When you and I embrace the complexity that is the gift of Jesus, our lives are also changed.
No longer can we think of power as a force of arms or the amount of one’s wealth. No longer can we see authority as given for anything other than the ability to serve. No longer can we keep people separated into “us” and “them.”
Instead, the coming of the Son of God shines light into all the darkness of this world and invites us to live fully in the light which is love, and peace, and justice, and mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness.
The light shines clearly to show us that all are children of God, equally loved and redeemed. The light shines clearly to expose the forces that bring hatred and fear. The light comes into the world and grants us the ability to see.
It might seem a long way, perhaps, from angels singing and shepherds leaving their flocks, but this is the message the angels have been singing from the beginning of creation. God has been calling shepherds into relationship from our earliest stories.
The angels are still singing and we are still invited to experience the birth of Christ. Each one of us has a present from God to unwrap. God gave us, gives us, a present. Unwrapping it is the work of our life.
May all of us have the pleasure of unwrapping this, God’s greatest gift to all creation.
The Rev. Gretchen M. Rehberg is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.
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