“Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you – you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
-- Luke 2:11-12
I don’t normally go looking for babies, but I do see them from time to time. They may be in a baby carriage being pushed along by a parent at the store. They may be in the arms of a family member, in the process of being passed around and oogled at by friends and relatives. They may be hauled up to the baptismal font to be blessed by Jesus with the water of life. I’ve even seen a baby bathed in a sink, but I’ve never actually seen a baby lying in a real-life honest-to-goodness manger.
A lifetime of Christmases makes it hard to understand just what a strange thing it was for those Bethlehem shepherds to walk in on. They were sent by a heavenly host of angels, not to the maternity ward or to a cozy bedroom, but to “that lowly stable [where] humble Christ was born.” What do you think they wondered at as they saw this sight? That they’d been spending too much time out in those pastures with the sheep?
Christmas tells us that God comes to us in surprising ways. Christ’s message is counter-cultural, and His kingdom carries with it a whole different set of assumptions and priorities than we are used to living with. It tells of a seemingly small event, the birth of a baby in a backwater village, which turns out to be more important than all the battles of armies and all the coronations of kings. It tells of the world’s Savior put to rest on a bed of hay in a donkey’s feeding trough. It tells of the honored guests brought to witness this all-important moment – not stylish celebrities, powerful rulers or paparazzi, but common shepherds who enter the scene in garments smelling of dirt, sweat and grass.
Behold God’s Christmas ways, so far from the ways we humans do strategic planning. God’s Christmas ways count each person as holy, full of possibility and promise. They write each one of us into the story, giving our lives meaning beyond our own understanding. These ways bring light into the darkest places and hope where even the most optimistic of us lose our nerve. These Christmas ways of God sent a baby to do a deity’s work, and the powers of evil never saw it coming. These are the ways of divine love.
But if God really works this way, what does that say about us? We who work hard and think it’s our work bringing the blessing, we who see ourselves at the center of it all, we who think we’re so full of love while we’re busy ignoring the neediest among us…God’s Christmas ways tell us to find the blessing in what we’ve already been given, to look beyond ourselves for life’s fulfillment, to join the desires of our hearts with the places in this world where suffering is greatest.
This baby will become a refugee from his homeland, will be accused of being a menace to society, will become a condemned and crucified criminal. But God’s Christmas ways are also God’s Easter ways, so He never ceases to surprise us by bringing life out of death. This season we remember God came to us as a baby, so open to the world, so vulnerable, so totally accepting, so small and everyday but still such a miracle.
I don’t normally go looking for babies, but when I do see them from time to time, it’s hard to look away. There’s something about a baby that draws us to look, to wonder, to smile. Come in from the pastures this Christmas and let that baby draw you in. Let yourself be gathered with those people all over the world, pilgrim shepherds every one, who come to find a baby in a most amazing place – in the manger of their hearts.