READINGS: John 1: 1-3 ~ Isaiah 52:7-10 ~ Luke 2:1-14
Midwives for God
This morning we heard the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary and we pondered the importance of the creator of the world asking for Mary’s permission before going ahead with the pregnancy. Now we fast forward to the birth of that child.
Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem to register for the census. Because there’s no room in the inn, Mary ends up delivering her child in an animal shelter. That’s how Jesus ends up with a manger for a bed.
We’ve seen the nativity story acted out dozens of times by both children and adults. Sometimes we dress it up with a few extra creatures and characters (there is no donkey or innkeeper in the scripture original). And sometimes we take much poetic license by having the shepherds and wise men together at the stable. That never happened. But pageants are an effective and entertaining way of passing on the story of the nativity from one generation to the next.
However, as John Bell writes, at some point it’s really important to move to a deeper understanding and remember that Christmas did not happen in a place where children role-played. Christmas happened in a predominantly adult environment among people who were not at all rehearsed in the part they were allotted. It must have been terrifying for a young woman to have delivered her first-born child in a stable. Hopefully Joseph was able to find a midwife – but none is mentioned.
But what fascinates me about John Bell’s take on Christmas is his comment that Christmas is about old people. Think of the bookends of Elizabeth and Zachariah, the elderly parents of John the Baptist. Or Simeon and Anna, who have waited all their lives to greet the child at his presentation at the temple. And because of his early exit from the Jesus story, tradition suggests that Joseph was likely an older man. And the wise men – they became wise through years of study that comes with age. It is as if God’s vocation for the elderly is that they should be midwives of the new thing that God is doing, writes Bell…and they are not resistant or reactionary to what is going on.
Even after all these years there is still much that we can learn from the Christmas story. We, the Anglican church, are a church of relatively elderly / aging, people and it is as if God is inviting us to be midwives of the new thing God is doing in our time and place. There is a new generation coming behind us and God asks us to be gracious enough to help them give birth to their part of the story.
Seldom does God work with a lot of hoopla. No one knew the messiah was being born. The only individuals recorded in Jesus birth room were Mary and Joseph. There was a general absence of publicity amidst the chaos caused by the census. Even the religious establishment of the day didn’t have a clue what was happening.
The first witnesses to the Christmas event were lowly shepherds. In first century Palestine, shepherds were not considered reliable witnesses in a court of law. So, their testimony did not count. They were just shepherds.
Sometimes we are oblivious to what God is doing. Sometimes we are resistant. Sometimes people point it out and we dismiss them. Whatever the case, God finds unlikely people, like Mary and Joseph and lowly shepherds, to move the story forward.
The question before us tonight is this: are we ready, willing and able to be good midwives to the new thing that God is doing in our midst? Are we ready to faithfully support and celebrate the new way forward? With us or without us God will move the story forward. For the Messiah has already come – is already at work on the next chapter of the story of Emmanuel … God with us.
Something to ponder as we listen to Noel, He Has Come.