Little Johnny is told by his mother that he has been very bad this year. Thus, he would probably not get anything for Christmas.
“What? Nothing for Christmas?” cried Johnny.
“Well,” said mom, “maybe if you write a letter to baby Jesus and tell him how sorry you are, Santa will bring you some presents.”
Little Johnny returned to his room and began his letter. With each attempt at writing he would first apologize and then promise to be good for a certain amount of time. Each letter he crumpled-up, and then started again, making the “be good” time shorter with each letter.
Just as he was about to give up in frustration, he was suddenly struck by a bolt of inspiration! Running to the living room he carefully removed the little Virgin Mary figurine from the family’s manger scene, carefully wrapped it in a sock, and placed it in his top dresser drawer. Returning to his desk, he took out a clean piece of paper and began to write: “Dear Baby Jesus, if you ever want to see your Mother again….”
There was a very interesting article that came out in the December issue of National Geographic (I was actually quite amazed to see it!): “How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman.” She fell out of favor with the more protestant leaning churches following the Reformation in the 16th century, but she holds a special place in the hearts of literally billions of people. She is seen as a point of access to God and a means to grace.
At the Annunciation the Angel of the Lord came to her and said, “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” Mary’s response set the stage for the turning point in our relationship with Our Heavenly Father. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Soon afterwards, Mary would go and visit her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and upon her arrival, Elizabeth declared, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Today, we find Mary in the manger giving birth to the Son of God. The star was shining, the angels were rejoicing, the shepherds came worshiping and told what they had heard from the angels, and Mary, we are told, “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” That means she took all that she knew from the time before the Annunciation, to the words the angel spoke to her then, to the declaration her cousin Elizabeth had made, to what the shepherds had shared with her that night, and tried to understand what it all meant.
So my question for you this evening is this: Have you? All of these events, combined with what we know from Holy Scripture about the life of Jesus—his teachings, the miracles, his death and resurrection—provide a basis for our faith. So, like Mary, have you treasured and pondered these words and events in your heart?
And everybody responds, “Well, Fr. John, we wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t!” But the reason I ask is because of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “For those who are great and powerful in this world, there are two places where their courage fails them, which terrify them to the very depths of their souls, and which they dearly avoid, these are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.” Why? Because in these two place, more than any other place in time, things happen.
Speaking specifically of the manger and the text we read tonight, Bonhoeffer wrote, “This text speaks of the birth of a child not the revolutionary deed of a strong man or the breath-taking discovery of a sage or the pious deed of a saint. It truly boggles the mind: the birth of a child is to bring about the great transformation of all things, is to bring salvation, and redemption to all of humanity. As if to shame the most powerful human efforts and achievements a child is placed in the center of world history, a child born of humans, a son given by God. This is the mystery of the redemption of the world, all that is past and all that is to come is encompassed here.”
I ask you if, like Mary, you have treasured and pondered these words and events in your heart, because many are afraid to do so. Why? Because one of two things will happen in your life when you do. One, you will reject it and remain as you are. Or, two, you will treasure and ponder these words and events in your heart and be transformed.
Mary is the Mother of God, but it was Meister Eckhart, a German theologian and mystic, who said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” To be transformed by the Word of God is to have God born in you and for some that that can be a terrifying prospect. One of the greatest understatements in all of Holy Scripture is when the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” because God will not leave you unchanged. He declares, “Behold, I am making all things new,” and what He desires to make new more than anything else is you.
So when that fear of transformation, of being made new, sets in, then hear the words of the angel, Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in – your very soul – a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Allow the Star of the Christ Child to rise above you. Allow your heart to be set as His manger. Allow the Son of God to be born in you. And allow Him to transform you into His image and His glory.