The Kingdom of God comes, as our Lord put it, “without observation.”
Even so it was a particularly inauspicious beginning. Gabriel had come to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary. He told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s only son and that the Holy Spirit would accomplish it. She agreed, and it was so.
Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, at first thought to divorce Mary quietly. But then Gabriel let him in on the plan and so he took Mary for his wife. I’m sure there was unpleasant gossip about the pregnant bride and her husband who some in town thought a fool for marrying her at all.
It was not an auspicious beginning.
In response to the census decreed by the Emperor Augustus, Joseph traveled to the hometown of his ancestor David. Apparently Joseph didn’t want to leave Mary alone so late in her pregnancy she rode a donkey 75+ miles to Bethlehem. There was no room in the inn so they wound up in a stable. Tradition says it was a cave.
It was not an auspicious place for a birth.
And there her first born son was born – laid in a manger – with the animals all around.
It was not an auspicious nursery.
An Angel appeared to shepherds who had the night shift watching the sheep. The angel said, “To you this day in the city of David is born one Christ the Lord.” Then suddenly more angels appeared. Was it 2, 20 or 200 angels? It’s hard to discern the aggregate when you have so little practice seeing angels. “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.”
It was not an auspicious audience.
The shepherds went into Bethlehem and indeed it was so: Emmanuel – God with us.
It was not auspicious in any way we would usually recognize! But the truly important things in our own lives have always come with out auspicious beginnings. We never saw their importance at the time. It is only in getting still and looking at our life that we see the outline of meaning. Oh, we say, that’s what that meant.
How amazed would Augustus be to know that more people know him from the opening line of the Christmas Gospel than from any inscription on a building in the forum in Rome?
Quirinus is the only Roman Governor of Syria now remembered and that for an event which he never knew came to pass.
Those taking the census, those who could afford rooms in the inn that night never knew that an event born out poverty would be the very event by which we divide history before and after.
“Here in time we have a holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St Augustine says the birth is always happening. But if it happen not in me what does it profit me? What matters is that it (the birth) shall happen in me.” Meister Eckhart
The inauspicious surroundings of our lives are the very occasion new birth in us!
It is the dark recesses of the stables of our souls that new birth begins.
It comes quietly hardly noticed by the turning of new leaves and amid the litter of good intentions.
It is when we are powerless and come to know it that the birth pain begins.
When we give up and know that we cannot make it on our own – there is a sudden irresistible movement of grace and there it is – new life – laid in the manager in amongst the ruin of our well laid plans.
This is not what we expect. This is not what we desire. We want drama. We want the earth to tilt further on its axis in order that we will know that we are alive and that all is well. But that is not how it happens. Meister Eckhart: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”
Tonight heaven and earth meet in that inauspicious event born of poverty. Earth is drawn up into heaven. In the great silence — without observation – He is come!
CS Lewis once said, “What a sorry place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.”
Well, it is finally winter even in Tennessee. And it is Christmas — let us be still and silent before him that he may be reborn in us.