At one of the UMW’s last yard sales, one of the women spotted the beautiful crèche that is displayed on our chancel. It is lovely in its detail and includes all of the people in the Matthew and Luke’s gospels: Mary and Joseph and the baby, the shepherds and their sheep, angels, wise men and their camels. And there is one more figure that we never put out—a roman soldier holding a sword. He’s not in the birth narratives. Neither is the little drummer boy that I do put in the crèche and that is included in the advent calendar that hangs inside the front door of our home every year. I put up the little drummer boy, probably because I like the song and the number of days on an advent calendar has to come out right. But I always put the Roman soldier back in his Styrofoam container high on a shelf in the storage closet because, seriously, he doesn’t belong. Historically, the Jews were hoping for a Messiah that would conquer Rome and return their freedom as a people. So when the angels proclaim the Messiah’s birth, it should have been bad news for Rome (and Roman soldiers). But when I listen carefully, I realize that the angel didn’t proclaim good news to Israel or Judah or Jews in general, but for all people. Could it really be political if the news actually was good news for all people?
The angels first shared the news with some shepherds, a few of the people who had one of the least desirable jobs around. Theirs was lonely and dangerous work. They worked in the dark while the rest of the world slept. Who else would have been awake in the middle of the night to hear good news? My guess is that they would have been the least political folks around, and also some of the poorest. What would be good news for the shepherds? What would be good news for poor people? Could news that was good for poor people also be good news for rich people? Can the good news be economic if it really is good news for all people?
What on earth can be good news for all people? For people on Vashon, in France or India, on Australia or in South Africa, in Israel, Palestine, Russia, the Ukraine, Syria, Pakistan, and Korea? How can a baby being born be good news for all people?
I wonder if it is because the person that baby became really saw people. Jesus saw the people other people looked over and passed by. He saw children and stopped to bless them. He saw a woman alone at a well and a man high up in a tree and engaged them in life-changing conversations. He saw tax collectors and fishermen and called them friends. He heard lepers and blind men call his name and healed them. He offered a woman caught in adultery forgiveness and saved her life. He knew when his disciples were afraid and offered them peace. He calmed stormy seas and stormy lives. He even knew the habits of birds and fish. He heard anguished parents’ pleas for help and healed their children. He felt a woman reach out to touch his robe hoping for a miracle. And he commended the faith of a Roman soldier who sought help on behalf of his servant and he even stopped to restore the ear of a Roman soldier on his way to be crucified. He comforted thieves dying beside him. Jesus noticed. He saw people and responded to their pain. Jesus saw people and loved them, even the ones who turned away, even the ones who harmed him. And in Jesus, we see the heart of God opened wide, made visible in human flesh and blood. We see what God-With-Us means.
Perhaps the good news for everyone is that God knows us—really sees and knows who we are and hears our cries of joy and sorrow, pain and guilt. And God is with us, individually, and in the space between, offering life and healing, forgiveness and comfort. We are not alone. Our lives matter and God will work in and through us for our good, if we are willing. Even when we are not willing, God is there. Even when everything goes wrong, God is there and we are held in love. No matter what our circumstance, the one who saves us from ourselves and heals us is there, loving us no matter what.
The quotation on the cover of the bulletin says:
God comes to the woman who feels in exile in her own marriage, for the man who grieves the loss of life dreams. God comes to the child who lives on the street, for the parents who struggle to feed and clothe their children. God comes to the one whose loneliness or depression intensifies every Christmas. . . .
. . . Emmanuel—God-with-Us—is coming to us, to meet us wherever we are—happy or sad, joyous or grieving. God comes to stand with us, whatever our condition.
That knowledge, held deep in our bones, could change everything. And when we know that God loves the other persons in our lives as unconditionally as we are loved, maybe we could live in peace. Henri Nouwen writes:
Real freedom to live in this world comes from hearing clearly the truth about who we are, which is that we are the beloved. That’s what prayer is about. And that’s why is so crucial and not just a nice thing to do once in a while. It is the essential attitude that creates in us the freedom to love other people not because they are going to love us back but because we are so loved and out of the abundance of that love we want to give.
So this year, I’m putting the Roman soldier in the crèche where he, too, belongs. Because the good news of God’s loving presence is for everyone. Every person. No matter what!