Rev. Christopher Raffa
Life is fragile. Hold onto it too hard and fiercely and you will break it. Hold it too softly and detached and you will miss its giftedness. Tonight almighty God descends to fragile human flesh. Christmas Eve is a fragile flood of emotions fraying our flesh into its greatest need. So much is wrapped up into this night. The jumbled and incriminating past is often relived-its trail of tears an ocean so deep. The present is grasped by any means necessary, by a toy, a cookie, a smile, a hug, a kiss next to the Christmas tree. The future is pregnant with both joy and fear, with hope and skepticism. And although St. Luke pens for us what many envision as a holy and silent night, a moment when angels bent the heavens low in song and shepherds stoically tended their flocks by night, Mary and Joseph were awed by the face of God cooing celestial sounds, it was, in reality, a fragile night. It was a night not unlike yours.
It's a fragile night. It's a night that we must not cradle in sentimentality the birth of Jesus nor sanitize Him of our sin and brokenness. We must not strip Christmas from the miracle of divinity coming to humanity, of divine love coming to a warped and weary love, of unmerited grace to those living in the fantasy that the manger need not come into their space. We must not see the time of Christmas as an escape clause, a time to mask our ills, deny our sins, and hide our wounds; a time to leave the world in a cocoon of merriment as its life and hope descends from heaven above; a time of two ships passing in the night, one fleeing from the darkness and the other being born into it. And although the entanglement of December's miracle on 34th Street can hardly be unwrapped from the miracle on the streets of Bethlehem, this night is about almighty God coming to fragile human flesh, of the Father's insistence that His Son be born, die, and rise for you.
It's an almighty God in fragile flesh, bouncing about in His virgin mother's womb. You hear the beast of burden clopping along in the dust of the earth. Joseph's voice calms the restless and frightened Mary. You see the shadows of animals milling about as they reach their divine destination. Joseph prepares the cruel and cold cattle stall where God comes for all. Mary's hour has come. Labor and sweat, cries and tears, pierce the midnight air. Suddenly you hear the cry of God, "This is My beloved Son, He is born for you. He is My fragile flesh joined to your fragile flesh, He has come only to rescue you." From the hills and pastures of the earth, where shepherds roam and you find no home, you hear this cry of newborn life, a home for eternal life. You see Him, lowly in a manger, heaven on earth, Christ the Son of God, born for man on earth. His presence pierces your body and soul to see that He comes to die for you. His glory is hidden beneath an impending cross. His life is freely given to a world that is lost.
It's a fragile flesh that covers your bones, holds your heart, and encases your soul. It's a flesh that had no room for Him-your sin too grievous, too deep, to think that He could rouse you from your sinful sleep. Yet what you failed to see is that He takes this heavy sin-filled life and dies with it on a tree. Yes, you are poor shepherds, who adore God's holy birth, and yet you are foolish virgins who sit idly by as this gift comes down to earth. You travail this thorny and thistled life, with scars too numerous to cover, yet greater is the One who lies in a manger whose scars will bring you righteous and heavenly life. You are children who sit on the edge of your pew, enchanted by the beauty of this night, with all this candlelight, yet you are grownups filled with the varied emotions of many Christmas nights. Your name is one of many in a grand family tree, perhaps reunited on this Christmas Eve, yet you sit alone as your branches of love are buried beneath the deep winter snow. The saints and Christmas angels surround you, this child's kingdom spanning from age to age, uniting flesh that lives far away, flesh that lies in the gave, flesh that stand at odds with other flesh, and barren flesh that never gave birth to flesh. This is you. This is me. This is the church on Christmas Eve.
So you come to the manger of Jesus and He looks up at you. In His eyes He sees Himself, joined to you from eternity. This is the joy that is set before Him, to live, to die, to rise for you, His children so frail and so few. It's that simple and it's free. This night you come to celebrate the birth of Jesus and yet the birth of Jesus is all about you. Jesus is not the reason for season. You are. The birth of God is your second birth-set free from this thistled and thorny earth. Jesus is born into your incriminating past, wiping the memory of your sins so deep and so fresh into a cradle and cross that doesn't count the cost. Jesus is born into your time, into your day, into your night, into all of your life, so that you may hold it sacred and be not afraid that it will soon pass away. Jesus is born into your future; a life that you confess will be the masterful work of this child, the beginning of your endless days, never to pass away. There is no part of your life that Jesus has not assumed as His own. He takes full responsibility for your sin and death while you take the place of honor and gladness as He puts away all your sadness.
Indeed, much is wrapped up into this night. It's not only a flood of emotions, it's a flood of fleshly mercy and fleshly forgiveness. Jesus is wrapped in the swaddling Word, His flesh audibly heard, a promise spoken that can never be broken. Jesus is wrapped in the Baptismal waters, His flesh new birth to weary sons and daughters. Jesus is wrapped in the Supper, His flesh forgiving food, His blood merciful drink. Jesus is wrapped in your mess to give you new and immortal dress. This is a fragile yet fleshly night. No sentiment lies here, only salvation. No sanitizing or airbrushing of life's treacherous path, just simple fragile flesh given in love that comes from heaven above. Beloved, Christmas Eve is almighty God in fragile flesh, incarnate and redeeming love, coming to you and to me. It's that simple. It's that free.
Rev. Christopher Raffa is Associate Pastor of Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Created: December 25th, 2015