Epiphany of Our Lord
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
A friend of mine says that the church has a problem. Her members like to sentimentalize the Nativity. In a sense, he’s not far off. There are manger scenes set up on many street corners, and every single one of them makes for a peaceful image. Many churches put on Christmas pageants, where some children wear angelic wings made from bent coat hangers and others wear oversized brown bath robes and carry a shepherd’s crook. The entire world seemingly gathers to sing “Silent Night,” as if to pretend that it will “sleep in heavenly peace” that night.
The reality of the Nativity—and what follows—is anything but peaceful. First, there’s childbirth. If you’ve ever witnessed it, it is hardly ever peaceful and silent, especially for a first child. And Jesus’ birth was, perhaps, especially strange; being born in a barn, if there were sheep, oxen, cows, donkeys, and camels about, they were likely not kneeling and silently attentive to the commotion going on in the stall where the people were, like you always see in the plastic, plaster, or pewter replicas that can be found around the world. You can also bet that the Infant didn’t spend much time in that manger; he had to be there when the shepherds came and found the family, but in addition to being swaddled, if He was awake, He was likely crying or nursing—it’s what babies do, and Jesus is fully baby at the Nativity.
And then there were those shepherds out in the fields tending to the sheep (so I guess they weren’t even in the stable). Things for them were certainly more peaceful and silent BEFORE the birth was announced. But, their silent, dark night was pierced by a bright heavenly light and the voice of an angel telling them, cowering in fear at this point, not to be afraid, but to go joyfully to find the Babe lying in a manger. It’s not everyday that you’ll find a sight such as this, and I’m not referring only to the angels, because even more showed up and began singing; I imagine the night was lit up like the day time.
So, now, in addition to animals milling about as she’s trying to calm her Baby, now Mary deals with visiting shepherds. I suppose it’s to be expected if you’ve just given birth in a barn, but still, some courtesy would have been appreciated. Of course, this is no ordinary Baby. This is the Son of God.