Could It Be? (Christmas Eve, 2002)
University Congregational Church – Wichita, Kansas
Rev. Gary Cox
When I was a child, our family doctor told me he had never really believed in God…until he saw a baby being born. At that moment, all of his doubts disappeared. I think most of us remember the first time—and the last time—we held a baby. One of the many great joys of my chosen vocation is that I get to see a lot of newborns. And one of the great privileges of being a minister is that I often get to hold little babies.
What is it about babies? Their skin is so soft and supple. In their gaze is that unmistakable sense of wonder as they try hard to focus in on you, but it’s plain that we’re nothing more than some sort of mysterious blur in front of their eyes. Their breath—their breath is so fresh and clean. Those little lungs have not inhaled the smog of the city, and their tummies haven’t been lined with red meat, Mexican spices and Italian salad dressings. I love that breath of life that comes from babies in their first few months in this amazing world.
And where do babies come from? Oh, I’m far enough along in years not to require a refresher course on the birds and bees. But really—where do they come from? I know, I know—a couple of cells join together and through a well-documented gestation process we end up with a baby. But look at the baby. He’s got fingers and toes and ears and eyes. She’s got a little nose and a mouth, and somewhere in there a mind that will one day be able to ask all the questions about this glorious creation that haunt every thinking adult in the world.
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But where do these babies really come from? Well, they come from God. That’s my answer, anyway. I think it’s the same answer our family doctor came up with those many years ago. Babies come from God, because the whole process is so impossible and so miraculous, there is just no other way to explain it.
And that, of course, means that we are all children of God. If there is a more powerful metaphor in all the world—if there is a more important way of thinking about human life than this—human beings as children of God—I can’t imagine what it is. We are brothers and sisters of the same Spirit, called forth from the same dust, breathing the same air, and ultimately, sharing the same destiny.
With the beginning of each and every human life, a child of God comes into this world. Tonight, tonight, we celebrate the birth of one of God’s children, a child born some two thousand years ago on the other side of the world. But this child—this child whose birth we remember this evening—this child is still with us.
This is a night for moving beyond our doubts. This is a night unlike any other, a glorious night when something deep within us cries out to be surrendered to the mystery that surrounds us and holds us in being. This is a night when we accept that we don’t really know any more now than we did when we first peered through the eyes of our newborn bodies. We’ve immersed ourselves in the details of living to the point we don’t give the matter much thought. But the fact is, the mystery remains. The glory remains. And we are every bit the helpless, totally dependant children of God we were when we drew our very first breaths.
If we are to surrender to the mystery of this night—to the glory and wonder of Christmas Eve—we have to trust God. We must believe that God is more in control of things that we often think. Could it be…could it be there has never been another night such as this? Could it be there is no other place like this place, no other time like this moment? And if our surrender to God is complete, could it be that from the beginning of time, each of us was meant to be exactly where we are—right here, right now.
We tend to sleep our lives away—not in the restful slumber our bodies need each night, but in the way we go through the motions of life, too seldom noticing the wonders of creation that call out to us from all around. A night such as this takes on a life of its own. The light from the candles dances delicately before our eyes. The music touches places within us that we had almost forgotten were there, places that have been hidden away since some Christmas Eve long, long ago, when life was simpler, and the world had not had time to harden our hearts.
Jesus said that whenever people gather in his name, he would be there with them. And yet, so often, we gather in his name, but our hearts and minds are elsewhere. Our hearts perhaps sting from a hurt or betrayal, our minds are back at work, or with some petty and ultimately unimportant detail that won’t let us go.
Tonight we are free of all those bonds that keep us chained to life’s minutiae, awakened from the sleepless dream that fogs our vision in the living of our days. Tonight we are granted new eyes and unclouded hearts, and we realize just what it means to have been granted this gift of life.
This is a night for miracles. This is a night when we recognize the impossibility of creation, and yet, here we are. This is a night when the commonplace becomes wondrous: the way the light from this beautiful sanctuary joins with the light of the stars to fill our eyes; the way the scent of candles and pine floats around us and stirs memories that are recalled with sighs too deep for words; the way, inconceivably, we breath in and breath out, in rhythm with the beating of our hearts, called forth impossibly from the dust beneath our feet…and yet, and yet, here we are.
The child whose birth we celebrate tonight grew into a man who knew the beauty of life, and who never lost sight of how precious it is. He knew that meaning comes in two ways, each of which is absolutely necessary. First, he said, we are to love God. Loving God has a lot to do with what we do here tonight. Loving God means closing our eyes, looking within, and recognizing life as the miraculous gift it is. Loving God means being thankful beyond words for the gift of life. Loving God means believing that God maintains enough control of our destinies that we can never wander beyond the reach of God’s mercy and grace.
Second, the one born on that night so long ago told us that after we look within and anchor ourselves with grateful hearts on the love of God, we are to open our eyes, move beyond ourselves, and love the people around us.
Jesus didn’t care much for rules, and those are the only two he gave us—love God, love one another. But he got it right, because two thousand years later we remember his life, and his death, and on a night such as this, we remember the glorious night he came into our world.
It is a scene that has been painted, sculpted, and created on film countless times. It is a scene that is etched upon our hearts—permanently hewn into the consciousness of humanity.
A young, unwed woman and her devoted fiancée arrive in Bethlehem and are unable to obtain lodging. She gives birth to her son and lays him in a manger. And from that moment hence the world was changed. The world would never be the same, and you and I would never be the same, because we call that child the Son of God. The glory of that cannot be captured with words. We say that a great star appeared overhead, that angels burst forth in song from the heavens, that great kings traveled from afar to pay homage to the newborn Savior.
It all falls short. Born on that night in Bethlehem was a child whose spirit lives today within the hearts of each and every one of us. Heaven and earth, time and eternity, life and death, past present and future all came to a point and appeared in the form of a child, an infant, whose life would change the course of human history. Because it was here that God’s love became incarnate. It was here that we learned once and for all that God is with us, that God will not give up on us, that God will go to whatever lengths are required to assure we will always have a way of experiencing God’s eternal love.
The birth of our Lord. Was it two thousand years ago, or yesterday? Or is it right now? Could it be that all of creation has led to a new focus, a new point in time, and that right here, right now, we are exactly where we are meant to be, and Jesus is once again coming into this world, enfleshed not just in the child born ages past in Bethlehem, but also in each and every baby born into the world today; and not only in those children, but also in God’s grown children—in each of us, in our humble, thankful, waiting hearts?
May it be so, this night, in the newness of tomorrow, and with each and every breath God grants us from this moment forward. God love you, God bless you, and Merry Christmas.