Some days are hard days. The Holidays and the drama of family and expectations notwithstanding, you know the ones I am speaking of. The ones where you want to put on your most comfortable pajamas and crawl into a warm soft bed to hide. It feels safe there. And the world can be a hard and unwelcoming place- like the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth- no room for even a woman in labor. Talk about a bad day.
I wanted to say this has been a hard year, but in reality, the last 3 have been hard. In fact, I suspect, if we really looked back in detail at every year, we would recognize, they were all hard years. It just seems the most recent rises up as the toughest.
The politics of the United States are literally crazy-making for us, let alone our international friends trying to make sense of what is going on. Our continued struggle to face the persistent nasty residue of slavery and Jim Crow twisted in with struggling police forces who have imperfect people among them, too has left us either angry or confused to the point of exhaustion. #metoo has made the cover of Time Magazine- women breaking the critical mass in markets and finally refusing to be mistreated any longer has opened a well of pain and a flood of voices speaking up about their pain and experiences. Our military conflicts continue- unabated and outrageously expensive. And everything from heroin to polio is making a huge comeback and taking lives at stunning rates. It has been a hard year indeed. And as a pastor, there are days I wonder how I am supposed to lead through THIS kind of shadow. How am I supposed to illuminate the murky shadow?
And then thank God, for more reasons than I can count- we have Christmas. The moments we get to catch our breathe and remember that we are not supposed to do this alone. Gabriel promised Mary that “nothing is impossible with God” and it is true. So as we read of a savior to come who will carry the governments upon his shoulders, I want to take a moment and flesh out that image for you. It doesn’t mean he will run the governments or that they will be created or run in his name. It means he is bigger than those governments- so much bigger he can put them on his shoulders to walk away with them. He can take the things that seem inconceivably large and impossible to manage let alone understand and pick them up like a baby lamb to carry across his strong and capable shoulders. Stop for a minute and think about that. If our Messiah can carry the impossibly large concept of entire governments and nations upon his shoulders, what burden is so big that he cannot carry it with ease? For him, this burden, your burden, any burden is light. Nothing is too big for our God to handle. Nothing. Not divorce, not cancer, not addiction, not homelessness, not depression and certainly not death.
It is hard to imagine this kind of power in a tiny baby tonight. So small and innocent we can hardly relate that with the power to shoulder the burdens of the whole world upon his shoulders. But he did and he does. The shepherds knew it- they knew something bigger and more amazing than they could grasp had occurred and they went and saw for themselves. They didn’t trust the word of the person next door or their social media. They went, they saw, they got the t-shirt. And then they went and shared with others at the top of their lungs.
And that is how the light of hope pierced the dark of night. They shared the good news. They told others and they shouted it from the mountain tops. Yes, Christ is our light and our hope. Yes, the Holy Spirit remains with us today. But the true illumination of Christ happens through us with one another. The Light of Christ works through us in the midst of our daily chaos and relationship with one another. His voice is the voice of one who calls out “good morning” or his smile is the smile of welcome in a strange place. The light of Christ is the one who stops to help you change a flat tire or pays for your coffee ahead of you.
God came to us to live in Mary, to be birthed into our world and to live among us because relationship means so very much. It is in relationship that we reveal the dance of the Holy Spirit to be concrete and visible in our world. Christ is with us still in every smile, every prayer, every hug or gentle blessing. The moments that make your day a little lighter, a little easier to bear? Those are Christ, taking our burdens upon his shoulders and granting us rest and reprieve through the ones around us. The gift of this messiah is more than a glorious forever-after. The gift is the carrying of our burdens now, here, so that we do not walk this world alone and so that nothing we face ever need to be impossible to bear. This gift of the innocent child is the invitation into relationship with God and one another once more- a gift of love and compassion that shines in the deepest darkness.
So this Christmas, share the gift. Share the love. Share the story and the promise and let the Holy Spirit dance through you- through your actions, your smile, your embrace to the lonely, the weak, and the weary. Bear Christ into our world so that when the days seem hard, we can confidently declare that the wonderful counselor, almighty God, everlasting Father and son have come to us, Emmanuel, God with us.