The Rev. Dr. James E. Brenneman, President, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA
Swaddled to Earth
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)
Heaven has been swaddled. Swaddled to Earth. And heaven doesn’t much like it. Heaven is that other world up there, far above earth, where the biggest, baddest, strongest gods rule and reign from heavenly throne rooms gilded in gold, silver, rubies and glitter. Heaven is nothing, if it isn’t, well, heavenly.
But our Christmas lesson does a number on such otherworldly notions by swaddling heaven to earth forever. The heavenly angel says to flummoxed shepherds, “this will be a sign to you: you shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (2:12). “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God,” (2:13) after which, the angels leave the shepherds behind and go back to heaven (2:14).
On this Christmas morn, when we with the angels sing of “Christ the newborn King,” who is “true God of true gods,” we proclaim to all who hear it, the fusion of horizons between earth and heaven. We sing of a God whose infinite divine presence narrows laser-like to swaddle itself to refugees – to a newborn baby lying in a manger in occupied territory in a backwater town in Palestine. We sing of a Heavenly King, whose crown is made of thorns, whose way is love that “stoops to rise.” On this Christmas morn, we run with haste as did the shepherds of old to the manger where God in Christ comes swaddled to earth in love. And having visited there, we “make known what was told about this child” (2:17,18,14), that “all who hear it may be amazed by what [we] proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to all people on earth!”
On this Christmas morning, Lord of swaddling infants, help us now some two thousand plus Christmas mornings later, to embrace the vulnerable, the poor, the refugees, the children and their parents, who are a sign to us of your amazing love for the least among us and so, for us all. Amen.