Homily for Christmas Masses 2013
Mary and Joseph couldn’t find room in the inn. I have been reflecting on that. This was their first baby. I can’t even imagine what was going through their heads. They had been on the road for days – Mary out to here… Far from home, exhausted – and then Mary started having contractions. And I just wonder… they must have been so confused.
Nine months earlier Mary had been visited by an angel. She was carrying a baby who had no earthly father. Joseph had been visited in a dream by another angel. And he had also been told that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit and that her child would be the Messiah, the promised one, the savior of Israel. He was to adopt him as his son and take Mary into his home as his wife, to protect and care for them as his own.
Their minds must have been so full of questions, so excited, so anxious. What was God going to do next? Would the angels come down again at the appointed hour for her to give birth? Was there a midwife angel? What would their son look like? Would he have wings? How would he act? Would he cry like other children? Would he sleep? Would she need to nurse him? Maybe he would only be able to eat angelic food… Would they set up a throne for him right away? And for a bed? The wings of angels... Certainly they would not be able to care for his needs, certainly a poor carpenter and a lowly girl from Nazareth could not give birth and care for the savior of the world, the Son of God, Emmanuel!
So I imagine that they were anticipating more angelic visits… more miracles, more wonders…. Riding and walking along together… “Surely,” Mary must have thought, “surely the angels will come and bring us somewhere to have this baby now.” No… Just the clacking of hooves and the smell of donkey breath… On they went… They would stop at an inn – at least they could try to be prepared for the arrival of their celestial guests. Joseph could wash up a bit, get the dust off his face. Mary could put her feet up… But no. It was full. Really? No divine intervention here? God can’t figure out a way to give his son and his parents a place to stay for the night?
And then the contractions started… well, the inn keeper said there was a stable out back… For the Son of God… wow. Well who knew what the Lord had in mind, right? Maybe this was a test? So out to the stable. Was that the flutter on an angel’s wing? No, just a few pigeons. Joseph looks disapprovingly at the rotten beams. Mary tries to ignore the stench. There are worse problems: Mary’s midwife is back in Nazareth. They had found the best one in the whole region… but to no avail – it would have to be Joseph with his rough carpenter’s hands.
As if in a dream, they labor through the night, one moment blending into the next - and it seems to happen so fast - suddenly there before them lies their little son, Emmanuel. No wings, but a fragile, little baby boy. He had been born in a smelly manger with no midwife and now there were no angel’s wings to rest on – it would have to be some straw in the manger.
I wonder if their first impulse was to apologize… “We are so sorry Jesus – this was the last thing we wanted, that you deserve – to be born in such a way, in such a place, by two people so inept as to not even find you a proper bed.”
And maybe they wondered about God’s plan – had they gotten it wrong? Had all the things they had seen and heard about this boy been imaginations? Were the angels real? Was the prophecy true? How could this be? That the Lord would not intervene – that he would allow his Son, almost conspire to ensure that his Son, was born in such a way, in such a place? What kind of Savior could this child be?
A knock on the door. A rough looking fellow sticks his head around the corner. A shepherd. He had been looking for them. Not one, either… More and more start to wander in. Shepherds! The rude and crass men who worked the fields. They are talking about angels and songs and singing in the heavens, and about their son. They had come to meet him, to honor him. More and more started showing up at the door, talking about the same thing – angels and songs and lights in the heavens.
And then it must have hit them. These were the first subjects of the king. The first to share in his kingdom. These rude and crass men. These forsaken. These lowly. The poor. The destitute. The uneducated and disabled. Those who lived in the margins and the dark corners of life.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah had prophesized. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Who would give him these names? Not the rich and powerful, not the famous and strong. Not even angels from on high. But shepherds. The poor. The uneducated. They angels were out finding them and bringing them to a stable, a place where they would feel at home to meet their new king, their savior.
And when Mary and Joseph saw this, I can only imagine that it brought tears to their eyes… To see that this child was already bringing mercy to those who are cast out, comfort to those who are afflicted, justice to those who are oppressed, consolation to those in sorrow, sight to the blind, wisdom to the simple, healing to the sick, freedom to captives, and good news to the poor.
How could they not love him – and not only because he was their son, but because he was the Savior who they had longed for without even knowing it. He showed them the face of God: a God who was good beyond their hopes, compassionate beyond their dreams, beautiful beyond their imaginings.
We just had an ice storm. I imagine many of you are without power. Maybe the oven won’t even work. The circumstances are not great… And you know, even if your power is on – we’re not in heaven yet. Life is messy – life is often Bethlehem during a census. There are disappointments, just as Mary and Joseph faced long ago. We wonder: will this be enough? We apologize: I wish I could offer better. We question: why doesn’t God intervene? Why does life have to be this difficult, this imperfect?
Yet as Mary and Joseph watched the procession of rugged and smelly shepherds coming in to meet their son, one can only imagine that their disappointment, their frustration, their questions and doubts began to fade away. The difficult circumstances, the limitations, the humble setting before them was transformed by Christ’s presence into a holy temple. God was with them. Emmanuel. He had entered the darkness and made it light. His favor was upon them, his love poured out among them. He had turned their straw to gold.