The miracle of Love

Luke 2:1-20 & Isaiah 9:6

Christmas Day 2014

St. Paul’s Alexandria

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales

Unto us a child is born;

Unto us a son is given.

Those ancient words of the prophet Isaiah, and the glorious melody of George Frederick Handel, were running through my head the past few days. For my family is celebrating the arrival of our latest addition, just six days ago.

Last Wednesday, I was leaving the school where I serve as chaplain. Two first graders, playing near the entrance as they waited for their parents, called, “Bye, Reverend Beales. See you tomorrow!”

“I won’t be here tomorrow,” I called back. “My daughter is having a baby!”

Henry shook his mass of curls and shouted, “It’s a miracle!”

“It is!” I chuckled. “And so are you!”

Then Henry’s eyes widened, and so did Langston’s, as they exclaimed in stereo, “We are?”

Yes, my sweet loves. You are.

They are miracles, as each one of you here today is a miracle. As my grandson Ryan, who arrived just past midnight on Friday is a miracle.

Sometimes my students get miracles and magic mixed up. And the easiest way I know to explain a miracle is this: A miracle is something only God can do.

Only God could create the miracles of Langston and Henry. Only God could create the unique miracle that is each of you. And only God could produce the spectacular, mysterious, astonishing miracle we celebrate today. Only GOD could cause GOD to be born in human flesh.

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

The strains of Handel’s Messiah sounded afresh in my heart early Friday, as I met tiny Ryan for the first time. Snuggled on my daughter’s chest, with Dad hovering inches away, was a brand new life. Then the ritual unwrapping began. The inventory of toes, the examination of tiny feet, the satisfaction of a sturdy fist curled tight around my finger. As a five-time grandmother, I love the ritual of unwrapping.

It turns out that we, too have some unwrapping to do this morning.

Oh, I know that some of you were ripping into Christmas gifts before dawn. I know that others of us are waiting to savor the moment after a leisurely brunch. But that’s not the unwrapping I mean.

What do we have to unwrap HERE?

We have THE Miracle. We have The Story.

This is where we come to hear, to tell, to SING The Great Story

of how love came down at Christmas;

in that bleak midwinter, long long ago,

when the snow lay on the ground and the stars shone bright;

when a patient donkey carried the mother Mary to a stable in

the little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

We come to tell the story of the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay,

while ox and ass before him bow, and the heavens are lit by a great

star, shining in the east beyond them far.

We tell of choirs of angels who sing in exultation,

            announcing good news to certain poor shepherds.

of kings who traverse afar by camel,

and a little drummer boy who plays his best for him, a rum pa pum pum.

 

A rum pa pum pum?

We have some unwrapping to do.

The Story, the wonderful story, is a gift we’ve been given.

Over the centuries, it’s been wrapped in many packages, many layers,

because part of God’s gift to us is imagination.

Imagination helps us to picture that first Christmas,

to place ourselves at the manger welcoming the newborn king¾

And maybe camels and snow scenes and a little drummer boy help us to do that.

There’s nothing wrong with this wrapping,

but if we can peel it back tonight,

we may see more clearly the simplicity, and the mystery, of the Gift Itself.

I started with the donkey.

A beautiful little book recently came my way, the story of three French children

who find a soldier, blinded in the Great War, and lost in their woods.

In his hand he clasps a tiny, silver donkey¾

and when he unwraps his fingers and holds it out to them

the children beg to hear its story.

As it turns out, the soldier has four stories to tell of these gentle, humble, trustworthy creatures – and the first is the story of a donkey named Hazel,

who carried the mother Mary to Bethlehem.[1]

So I started looking for the donkey in the story that Luke tells this morning.

Hazel isn’t there, and neither is any of her breed. . . . I peeled away the donkey.

Next to go was the cow that warmed the stable –

in fact, surprisingly, this story mentions no stable.

And no innkeeper, though in every Christmas pageant I’ve ever seen,

two innkeepers refuse entrance to the inn and the third offers only a shed.

Peel away the innkeepers.

What about the snow? In this story, it’s not even on the radar,

nor is there any mention of winter, or any other season.

There is not even, in this story, a star:

Along with the magi, that will take twelve more days.

Peel away the layers of imagination — beautiful though these wrappings are —

and lay bare the Gift at the center of it all.

Lift it up to the light,

and clasp it to your heart as you would a treasure.

For at the heart of this story is . . . Love. AND LOVE IS ALWAYS A MIRACLE.

In this story, an empire in love with money

demands that a young woman, and the man who loves her,

make a difficult and taxing journey.

In this story, the Child she carries won’t wait until his parents can offer him

a better beginning than a borrowed feeding trough.

In this story, the poor — in the form of shepherds —

have good news proclaimed to them,

and the language of angels is spoken on earth.

In this story¾at the heart of this story¾is the Child,

wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

Peel away even these swaddling clothes, and there¾

naked and unprotected¾

is God . . . .

. . . God, who so loves the world that he cannot stay away;

. . . God, who will embrace earthly joys,

and endure earthly hardships,

even death, for the sake of LOVE.

This story, first told in the flesh of the infant Jesus and the man he became,

is repackaged in each one of us who bears his name

and hopes to follow his ways.

And wouldn’t it be a miracle if we really did? If we really did feed the hungry, and care for the weak, and liberate the captives, and stand up for justice? Wouldn’t it be a miracle if the people who walked in darkness could see a great light, and that light was US, “shining as a light in the world to the glory of God?”

Such a miracle is a gift we can unwrap for the world,

telling, through each of our miraculous lives,

the Story of Love, who came down at Christmas,

and stayed forever.

Unto us a child is born,

Unto us son is given.

Amen.

[1] Hartnett, Sonya. The Silver Donkey (Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2006).

About threegreatdays

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales is a Godly Play Trainer in the U.S.; an Episcopal Priest; Chaplain at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia; a Godly Play Practitioner since 1996; and a mother and grandmother. Every day I get to be with 400 children at school and on weekends when I'm lucky, with my four terrific grandsons and three lively granddaughters. As a Godly Play practitioner, I want to spread the word about this life-giving, Montessori-based way of nurturing children in the Christian story and life. Godly Play, the creation of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman and his wife Thea, is used in many denominations and in many countries, and has been translated into at least seven languages. This blog is not an official publication of the Godly Play Foundation (see www.godlyplayfoundation.org) but seeks to be a clearinghouse for ideas and experiences of teachers, trainers, and parents. Join the conversation!

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