Christmas Eve Meditation
December 24, 2010    Luke 2:1-20

    There is a school of thought that says life is easier if you are a Christian, that difficulties just dissolve and relationships flow effortlessly from person to person.  This assumption of ease has created frustration in more than a few minds and hearts.  Life has its challenges, and I would venture to say that there are not many of us who have escaped unscathed.  We all have the bumps and bruises of body, mind and soul to show that we have not sailed through life, at least not all of the time.
    When we read the story from Luke’s gospel, as we did here tonight, it becomes clear that the Christ Child’s presence in Mary and Joseph’s lives did not guarantee comfort and instant ease.  Far from it, their lives were thrown into confusion and upheaval from the first moment, when Mary was confronted by the angel and told she would have a child.  Mary was ostracized, as was Joseph most likely, although we don’t hear so much about that.  When the census came, rather than their special connection to God protecting them, they ended up traveling what had to be a long and uncomfortable way to comply with the government’s demands, only to end up in Bethlehem with no place to sleep.  Mary had no safe or comfortable place to give birth, either.  We are so accustomed to the story of Jesus’ birth that the manger scene seems quaint to us, but the reality of a stable where animals are kept is not so quaint.  Most barns are not especially warm or comfortable for people, let alone a newborn baby.  How did they manage under such difficult conditions?
    What are we expecting when we invite God to have a role in our lives?  Are we expecting things to be smooth and easy?  Do we assume that we will not have to struggle to make ends meet, or to pay our bills?  Do we imagine that our troubles will disappear in a flash of light?  What are we expecting when we come here tonight, even?  What draws us here, to listen to the familiar story and hear the wonderful music?  Is it just familiarity?  What are we hoping for?
    The truth of a life of faith is essentially that God doesn’t protect as much as accompany us.  God is with us through whatever comes our way, both the good and the difficult aspects of life.  When we are dealing with something that seems more than humanly possible to cope with, God is there, and that helps in some way that maybe we can’t even understand or articulate.  For me, this knowledge is as close as my breath.  When I am struggling with a difficult time, I find that it helps to remind myself that I don’t have to do it alone, that I am not ever actually alone no matter how lonely I may feel.  The reminding is enough sometimes, to do the trick, but often what really helps is to take a deep, intentional breath.  Breathing in, I sense the Spirit coming into me through the breath and calming me, helping me relax into the moment, despite the tension all around me.  Breathing out, I feel the stress and worry leave my body and my mind, little by little.  A few deep breaths, and I feel better, more calm, more relaxed and better able to deal with whatever is challenging me in that moment.
    Emmanuel, one of the names by which we know Jesus, means “God-is-with us.”  This is an important piece of the Christmas story, probably the most important.  No matter what we do, no matter where we go - even if we go places we should not, even if we do things that we shouldn’t have done - God is still with us, still accompanying us.  I think this is why the story of Jesus’ birth is recorded the way it is, to emphasize the fact that God is present with ordinary folks.  Jesus was born into a poor family who had no power at all in terms of the political landscape of their time.  He was born while they were away from home, under much less than perfect conditions.  The first people who came to see him were ordinary shepherds, who came because they were up late at night living out in the fields with their flocks, and heard the news.  Soon after he was born his family needed to flee to Egypt in order to protect him from the craziness and fear of King Herod who ordered all male children to be killed.  In essence, Jesus came to bring good news to ordinary people whose lives were filled with ups and downs, with challenges and joys.  He came to teach and show that God’s presence can make a difference in lives like yours and mine. 
    Emmanuel, God-with-us, we are grateful for your coming into our lives this holy night.  Your presence in our lives reminds us of our relationship with all that is sacred in the midst of all that is human.  May we keep our hearts open to your touch tonight and every day forward.  Amen.

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"If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessings in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love; rather, we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature."   - John O'Donohue