Luke’s Christmas gospel begins with angel speech! Listening back to that far-off time, what startles us and sets us dreaming is that into the night of this world’s doings, the angel announces, “… behold, I bring you good news.” Of course, there was more. Still, it is good news we long for. Through the ages bad news has too often orchestrated human imaginings, continuing to do so into our own time. But here in the Christmas story of God’s coming down to us, humbly becoming good news to the whole of creation in the Manger Child. The stakes must have been awesomely high to warrant angel speech – but thus it was!
Luke’s gospel harnesses facts and fictions – for there is no other way to spy out the mysterious and wonderful ways of how God is with us, and gives to us now 2000 years from that birth a story that shall never wear out. Each December we joyfully consider the angel’s announcement. Each December we sing our carols, wanting to participate in the joy of those shepherds who first said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And each December we hear the Christmas Gospel – thinking perhaps that this will be the year we shall “answer from within” and claim that joyous destiny God purposes for us with a resounding YES!
So year after year we have come to this season of joy, knowing our need of that good news of which the angels sang. God’s gift of himself in the Christ Child: in Mary’s baby God becomes Immanuel! Here is forgiveness for our straying ways. Here is offered us light upon our way. Here in Jesus, God’s love has made a nest in a human face! Something in me dearly, dearly desires wholeheartedly to look upon that face until God looks back upon me. For in myself are pieces of yesterday I urgently wish to leave behind – like forgotten items left at a hotel (I believe someone wrote), discovering later that they were nothing I needed to retrieve. That would be good news! There is an old prayer, ostensibly written by the Danish Theologian and Philosopher: “Father in heaven! When the thought of thee wakes in our hearts, let it not awaken like a frightened bird that flies around in dismay, but like a child waking from its sleep with a heavenly smile.” Christmas is hearing again angel speech awakening our neglected depths, reminding us that these things can be – that in a manner of speaking we are bound for glory. I, too, would wake to God in wondering awe, in sudden realization that one can approach God inwardly through a great and active remembrance of the Christmas Child, through whom we have been given good news. With a profound, longing remembrance we can come to know him of whom it was said in angel speech, ”I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Though the years shall brutally and forcibly force us to drop one thing after another, this child’s birth alerts us to the knowledge that God is both our hope and our joy. Christmas is God’s good news enabling us to reach what is high in ourselves. This Child shall guide us onto paths of faith and simplicity to the end that we might discover the beautiful grace of ourselves becoming in all our doings good news to others!
The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation at the First Parish Church in Saco.