Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.
From the Gospel according to Saint Luke, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Every Christmas, a wonderful thing happens, and I think its my favorite part about Christmas. Its that every church, from the tiniest country parish, to the largest cathedral, no matter where it is in the world, becomes Bethlehem. Not like Bethlehem, but Bethlehem.
For Bethlehem is where God reveals His plan for the world, where Heaven and Earth meet, and where light shines in the darkness. And that is true right here in this church no less than on that very first Christmas. Here we kneel, just as the shepherds did, to adore the Christ-child. Here, we sing hymns of praise to God, just as the angels did on that first night. Not only that, but on this night, we should be particularly aware of the presence of the Holy Angels among us. I like to think of them, perched up in the rafters, filled with the same kind of awe that filled them on that first Christmas.
There, in the Christmas creche, is not merely a symbol of the meaning of Christmas, but a window into the message that goes out to all the world every Christmas – to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Every one of us can find him here – wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.
This was the reason that Saint Francis of Assisi started the tradition of placing Christmas nativity scenes in churches. He returned to Europe from pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the crusades and wanted everyone to be able to experience it more fully. Of course, Saint Francis knew that knowing it or not, everyone does experience Bethlehem on Christmas. The trouble is, we are often unaware of it. We are unaware that Angels join us in our worship of God made man on this day. We are unaware that He himself is right here with us. We are unaware that we are just like the shepherds who came to look upon Him on that night.
We need these icons through which we can see the very things that our eyes cannot, for if Christmas is about one thing, it is about the invisible being made visible in Jesus Christ. For in Him, the invisible God becomes known.
Bethlehem, is the Hebrew word for House of Bread. And, my beloved in Christ, Jesus is the Bread of Life. He who comes to Him shall not hunger. As Bethlehem is the House of Bread, so is every church on this night, as the Lord of Life offers himself to the world in the bread of the Eucharist. Yes, He is just as present here as he was then. Make no mistake – youre in Bethlehem. For in Christ, the invisible God has made Himself visible.
Saint John puts it this way: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
You see, our eyes have been clouded by sin. From the moment of the Fall, what humanity lost was the blessed vision of God. I dont need to prove to you on this evening that sin is real. I need no more to convince you of it than I need to convince you of the existence of cell phones and gas prices. Sin is a daily reality, from the friend who wrongs you to the emptiness in your soul. Sin is that horrible tragedy, that terminal disease, these two things yearning for a change in the plot, a cure to be found. We need to recover sight of God, and that is the very thing that happens on Christmas – God who has hidden Himself in darkness, in a burning bush, in a cloud, in a whirlwind – has made Himself visible again.
In the wonderful books by J.K. Rowling, we have been invited to see that there is a world of invisibility. Just because you cant see Platform 9 and 3/4s doesnt mean its not there. Just because muggles cant see Hogwarts, it is no less there and real. Yes, the Christmas moment is just as though God has taken off His invisibility cloak, and in an even better way – for in Jesus Christ, the moment of His birth is an unveiling in a way that taking off an invisibility cloak is not. For, the Birth of Jesus shows us that God is not content to remain hidden, but must shed His glory over the whole world.
This is the reason the angels proclaim: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!
It is the reason Isaiah proclaims: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
You see, we are often too timid in our faith regarding the things God has done in Jesus Christ. On the one hand, we err on the side of history, looking upon Christmas as an historic event, and not the night on which God continually reveals Himself to the world, not merely then, but now.
On the other hand is the terrible injustice done when Christmas is turned into the very thing it is not – at best a time for gift-giving, hot chocolate, and parties, and at worse – materialism, the latest and greatest toys, and family squabbles. Dont be afraid – youre not alone!
The suggestion should be made to every Christian for Christmas – make this season of twelve days a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, a pilgrimage to look upon the face of God in His Incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ! To see God – what a blessed thing that is!
Not even Moses was allowed to see the face of God.
But you can see Him, because Jesus Christ has made Him known. With child-like wonder, open your eyes of faith to see Him. Ask Him to come to you, just as He did to Bethlehem. Come to receive Him in the Eucharist this night – not because its the thing to do on Christmas, even if you dont the rest of the year. If thats true – dont bother. No – come to him like the shepherds did, filled with awe and wonder, too see the thing that God has done, and to worship and adore Him.