Take a look at this old rag – it is dirty and torn, the edges are frayed and it doesn’t seem as though it is of any good use to anyone. To you it may mean nothing – less than nothing – but to me it means the world. It’s my son’s baby blanket, or what is left of it. My mom made it and gave it to me at a baby shower before he was born. When we brought him home from the hospital, this sweet blanket covered him and kept him warm. I wrapped it around him when I rocked him. It comforted him when he was sick, and he slept under it’s warmth each night. With the passing of time and the effect of many launderings the fabric of this wonderful blanket became thinner, the lace on the edge became more frayed, and it began to take on a worn out look. (a hole here, a pulled thread there, a stain or two) No worries, though, because it was even softer and more comfortable than before, perfect for holding up to a little boy’s cheek as he listened to a bedtime story. No blanket before or since has been more loved. Then, when carrying a blankie by an active toddler became too much of a chore, my little boy poked his head through this hole and wore it after the fashion of a super hero cape. So much love, so many memories, so much comfort, and joy are wrapped up in the frayed edges of this blanket. So please, when you look at it and see it as a discard, know and understand that it is so much more. When I look at this blanket I see love.
Perhaps you feel a little bit like this old blanket – a little worn and frayed. Perhaps, it took an effort for you to be here tonight. But here you are and for good reason, too. God has a message for you that was sent to earth through the Christ child. It is a message of love and light. For when God looks at you – no matter how worn you feel, no matter who else sees you as a discard, God looks at you and sees love. He knows all of the things that have happened in your life – good and bad, difficult and easy, happy and sad – the things that have maybe left you a bit frayed around the edges, a bit tattered and torn. He sees how easily people discard others who seem as though they are not of any good to anyone. But when he looks at you, he sees love.
This evening we have heard the story of the birth of the Christ child as told through scripture. No matter how many times, I read this second chapter of Luke and remember the events of that long ago time, I am astonished and perplexed. How could this possibly be the story of the one sent by God to be our Savior. So often, we cast a fairy tale-like glow over the story of the Nativity. And yet, here it is, very down to earth, very humble. It is a story that reminds me of my well-loved, tattered blanket in that it is perfectly imperfect. A very pregnant young woman and her husband to be, make their way through the rough, hilly terrain of the Judean countryside from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This is an arduous trip of 80 some miles long, undertaken only because of some silly government mandate. The trip is a hardship, though it is obviously “doable.” Upon arrival in Bethlehem, it is crowded and full of activity, but it’s time for the baby to be born. Once the labor pains start, there is no turning back – that baby is coming, ready of not! Luke is sparse on the details, he simply tells us that “she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger (which is really a feeding trough for animals) because there was no place for them in the inn.” That is definitely a humble beginning, but hang on there’s more. The first to hear about the birth of the Christ child are shepherds. Most of us have a sweet vision of what a shepherd is from reading the 23rd psalm, or from descriptions of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The reality of that day and age is that shepherds are among the discards of society. Shepherds are generally scorned and shepherding is seen as a despised occupation at the time. Perhaps, the shepherds were the first to hear, in order to further emphasize that Christ’s birth is for all people including the lowly and the outcast. Yet, something incredible happens on that night in which the veil between heaven and earth is pierced and the outcasts see something that penetrates the darkness of their lives (and that thing is love.) Luke tells us that the shepherds are visited by angels. The darkness is showered with brilliance reminding us of the prophecy from Isaiah (9:2): “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And surprisingly, that light is a baby. I picture the shepherds faces transformed with a new light, an inner light. For they have experienced the love of the greatest and they cannot contain their joy but share it with those they encounter.
What an astonishing story this is – the humble setting of the birth, the disreputable shepherds who witness this, and the glory of the angelic announcement. Remembering these dramatic events, year after year, never gets old.
God has called us here tonight, not just to remember and re-tell the story of the birth of Christ but to re-ignite the light of Christ in ourselves and in the world. You’re being here tonight is no accident. God is looking at you with and has something to do through you. One thing we can all do is to bring the light of Christ to others who, like the shepherds, and like my blanket may be viewed as discards. We can share the peace and love and light of Christ – the world needs it!