The Birth of Jesus
December 23, 2007
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "See, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will name him Immanuel," which means, "God with us." When Joseph awoke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
When Moses first approached the burning bush he was admonished by God, out of the midst of it, to take off his shoes because the place on which he was standing was holy ground. So also does the voice of God call on each of us to remove every base feeling and unworthy thought from our minds when we approach the subject of the miraculous birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; for here we, too, stand on holy ground. We can only begin to understand the virgin birth if our hearts and minds are open to the influence of love and truth, which are our highest instincts--our spirituality, the highest element of our humanity.
The Christmas story is the story of the birth of a child--indeed a very special child who was born into our world for a very special purpose. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the child's mother, Mary, was told by an angel that she would, "conceive in her womb and bear a son" (Luke 1:31). Indeed the prophet Isaiah had predicted, over five hundred years earlier, that a virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be called Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph, the man engaged to Mary, was told by an angel not to be concerned that Mary had conceived and was to have a son, and that he should marry her anyway, and be a father to the child. The angel also told Joseph that he should name the boy Jesus, because he would be a savior of the people.
If we believe he was all of these things--that is, Savior, King, Messiah--then we are definitely looking into the realm of holiness, and our soul is being opened to the influence of the Lord our God. He came to live with ordinary people like you and me. He came to teach us how to live useful, productive, religious-based lives, which involves caring for our neighbors; and that this is the kind of life that will lead us to heaven and eternal life with him.
It is difficult for us, with our materialistic minds, to envision God, the Almighty Creator of all things, coming into the world as a tiny infant. We might wonder why he did not come as the mighty God with awesome wonders, and the power to dazzle us and bend us to his way. But can we imagine what it would have been like if God had come here in his full divine form? The earth could not begin to contain him, and we humans, with our relatively small minds, could not begin to comprehend him, let alone relate to him. We would have been completely overwhelmed. Any influence he had on us would have compelled us to believe in him, and thence the freedom that is such a vital part of love would not be present in our lives.
We had to be reached at our level, not at his. So the Divine used a different way to reach us. He appealed to the basic instincts of love that all people are born with, and provided a natural way for us to relate to and express that love. He was born an infant child; a weak, vulnerable baby, needing lots of care and nurturing and protection just to survive.
It is part of the human psyche to be able to love: to receive love and to give love. But as with most things, we need to develop this capacity in stages, beginning with the simple uncomplicated forms of loving, and then progressing to the more complex and involved forms. The love that infants have for their providers is the most basic form, as it is pure innocence. The love that nurturing parents have for their babies is a response to that innocence, and also is quite basic. By coming into the world as an infant, God gave us the opportunity to respond to him in a manner we can always achieve, and that can be the beginning of our development as loving beings who are willing to receive and share the Lord's love at higher and higher levels.
When the Lord was born in Bethlehem, the first people to become aware of his birth and to seek him out were shepherds. How appropriate this was, as shepherds are people who devote their lives to caring for and tending their flocks of vulnerable, defenseless lambs and sheep. They could certainly understand and respond to the birth of this special baby, and would immediately wish to love and protect him; they would respond to his birth in a very positive way.
When the Lord first enters our life in a way that we are really conscious of, there are shepherds in our personality that immediately respond to this birth in us. These basic loving instincts tend to protect and nourish our early, innocent conceptions of the reality of God in us. That does not mean that the love of God immediately begins to grow in us; but it is protected until at some point we are ready to accept it and begin to cultivate its growth through inquiry and learning and practice.
The Lord was born in the night when all was dark. He came into a world that was in a state of spiritual darkness and ignorance; a world that had lost touch with the inner, spiritual aspects of religion, and only paid heed to the external trappings of the laws and rituals of the scriptures. It was a world in which there were only a few humble shepherds who cared for the pure innocence of love; only a few to whom the angels of the Lord could draw near.
He often comes to us when we are in darkened states, and then the first stirrings of the feeling that we are spiritual as well as natural are born in us. This is that first awareness that the Lord, who is spiritual, can dwell in us because we too are spiritual. We can then begin to believe that he really exists and lives in us. In his infant state we can respond to him, and begin to experience and practice some small measure of spiritual love.
It is a tradition for us to give gifts at Christmastime. The gifts are a token of our love for one another. The infant Jesus was God's way of giving mankind the gift of love. In this year of our Lord 2007, let us praise God and thank him for Jesus, the child who brings love into our life every day of the year. Amen.
Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to us here on this earth, not with overwhelming splendor, but in the simplicity and innocence of a baby. Thank you for coming to us in a way that even the most hardened among us can soften to. Thank you for making yourself vulnerable to our care, so that we may care for you, and open our hearts to you. May the shepherds of our inner character find you even in the midst of the darkness, so that we may hear the angel chorus singing to us God's glory, and of peace on earth. Amen.
Rev. David Sonmor