Christmas Eve                    12/24-25/2016 Epiphany, Norfolk, St. Bride’s, Tucker House

If you’ve watched TV news within the past couple of years, you’ve seen some of the huge migrations of people in the Middle East, most recently from Syria. That sort of thing is nothing new to the people of the Middle East. Sadly, it’s been going on over there as long as humans have been around. There are countless references to it in the Old Testament. The two most well known would be Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, and the Babylonian Exile.

We watch it on TV and wonder, “How in the world they do it?” When I was young and in better shape, I don’t think I could have walked those distances. The migration we read about in the Christmas Story was not a “deportation”, or people feeling an army. It was the result of a census ordered by Rome, probably to monitor the birth rate of the Jews. Remember, the land was occupied by the Romans. The Romans wanted to keep the Jewish population down to prevent uprisings, and to conserve food and water. That land and climate could barely sustain the Roman Army and their horses. It is estimated that one of Herod’s many underground stables sheltered 10,000 horses, in an almost barren land. The Jews were on the brink of starvation, and Herod ordered this census, requiring everyone to return to his paternal home, and be counted.

If there had been TV in those days, it probably would have looked similar to what we’ve seen in modern times, without the air strikes and the bombings. Throngs of people trudging along, carrying all of their possessions. You probably wouldn’t see much of a difference in today and 2,000 years ago.

Much of the “lore” that has come down to us about the Christmas narrative may be pretty accurate. We’re told that in the middle of this migration, a very pregnant Mary, perhaps 14 years old, and Joseph, a small town carpenter, joined the migration for the approximately 100 mile walk from Nazareth in the north, to Bethlehem in the south – about the same distance as Norfolk to Richmond.

These were not sophisticated people. They were not worldly, or well traveled. They were from Nazareth, a poverty stricken little place in the middle of nowhere. A healthy person can walk about 3 miles an hour. So, we’re talking about 4 or 5 days on the road – at best.

Finally, they made it to Jerusalem, certainly the largest city they would have experienced. Then 6 miles further south to Bethlehem, a little, out of the way “stable town”, built on the side of a hill.

We’re told that a huge “tent shelter” had been erected as emergency housing for all of these descendants of David who were coming to this little place. It’s referred to as “the inn” in  our traditional story. But “the inn” was full, packed with more people than expected, like the refugee camps over there, today.

So someone directed Mary and Joseph to a cave stable down under the town of Bethlehem. I’ve been there. It’s a huge maze of tunnels and chambers dug out of the sandstone by slave labor, under Bethlehem, to hold Herod’s horses. It would have been a terrifying place. But in the dark, Mary and Joseph found their spot – a little dark corner of the cave, sort of a “cave within a cave”, marked today with a simple silver star poured on the floor. And in that corner of that cave, Mary and Joseph must have huddled together – exhausted, frightened, and very lonely.

And then it all stopped. The Christmas “holy quiet” came upon them, and a child was born. God entered the world that night, in the form of a little baby boy. The “creator” and the “creation” became “one”, in the form of a child.

You know, sometimes God is very messy about things. And God’s “sense of timing” is just horrible. Things never happen when we think they should. And God’s “sense of place” is just as bad. But suddenly, God can bring down a “holy quiet” – sort of like the dark corner of that cave, where we can hear, and feel, and think, and respond.

And this is why this moment in my life, each year, means so much to me. All of the rushing around, and tearing from here to there, and preparing, and planning, and fretting – it’s over – AND WE STOP, right now. And we find our little corner of the cave, maybe in this church, maybe in our homes, maybe just in our minds, but we settle back, and we quiet down, and we give God space to enter our lives.

Tonight we celebrate heaven and earth touching. It’s a mystery. It’s a miracle. It’s God being wonderfully messy.

My prayer for each of us this Christmas is that God will find a way to enter our lives, this “quiet holy night”, so that we might experience the gift of love that entered the world down in that cave, that 1st Christmas.

“Silent night, Holy night. All is calm. All is bright”

May it be so in our hearts and souls, this special night.


Posted December 27, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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