By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Pregnancies have a way of never quite going as planned. I have been pregnant three times and let me assure you not a one of them went according to plan. The first one we lost early on in a miscarriage. The second one decided after laboring all day and pushing for two hours, that he would prefer to be born by c-section after all. The third decided to show up six weeks early and didn’t even bother to send us an invitation to the party.
Each of these pregnancies and subsequent births brought on a whirlwind of emotions--joy, sorrow, worry, and love...so much love. We found ourselves with each pregnancy needing to let go of whatever beautifully designed plan we might have come up with to see what God might have in store for us. And when I say let go. I mean let go. Let go and let God. Unclench our fists and with open hands and hearts welcome whatever might come. It turns out, God’s plan held so much more than we might have ever dared ask or imagine.
I often wonder if this must be what Joseph and Mary experienced. Their plan had been to start a life together. Instead, they found out she was pregnant with God incarnate. Yeah, how’s that for a curveball? “Oh, Joseph honey? I meant to tell you an angel of the Lord stopped by and told me I was pregnant with the Son of God.” But unlike many of us, they didn’t completely freak out--or if they did Luke conveniently left that out of the story, and this story is already so strange, so different than any other story ever told that I can’t imagine what need there would be to leave out a detail like that.
And as it turns out, Mary’s pregnancy with God incarnate was not the only curveball thrown their way. In her final months of pregnancy, she had to travel to Joseph’s hometown in order to register as part of the Roman Empire’s census. Joseph and Mary were not alone on their ninety mile walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They would have been part of a large party travelling back to various hometown’s along the road. Once they finally arrived in Bethlehem, weary from travel, they learned there was no room for them at the inn.
Now about the English word ‘inn’ used in this translation of the gospel. The Greek word used to describe the place where there was no room is kataluma (kat-al'-oo-mah). The same word is used later in Luke’s gospel to describe the ‘guest room’ where Jesus will eat the Passover with his disciples. So the word ‘inn’, should actually read as ‘guest room.’ Luke was not trying to tell us that there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the local Holiday Inn. Luke is telling us that the guest room in Joseph’s family home in Bethlehem was already filled with others who had travelled home for the census. Given that the room was not made available to a pregnant woman, it was probably a very important male relative staying there.
But Joseph’s family did not cast them away or house them in a barn. Family would never turn away family. They were there to provide shelter and support to this couple pregnant with God incarnate. Family homes in that region during that point in history were actually cave like dwellings built into the hillsides. In order to keep the animals safe at night they brought them into the front of the home. Which means, Mary and Joseph, did labor and deliver the Christ child next to the family’s animals, but they were also surrounded by Joseph’s extended family. They were not alone.
And the crowd grew bigger as the night wore on and shepherds appeared to praise the Christ child.
From the beginning, Mary and Joseph were never alone. They had each other. They had the angels that appeared to each of them. They had their support system back home in Nazareth. And on this vulnerable night that Jesus entered the world they were surrounded by Joseph’s loving family, their animals, and a group of motley shepherds. Most important of all, these two could never have ever been alone even if they wanted to, because they were pregnant with God incarnate. Or as we sometimes refer to Jesus--Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us.’
I believe the birth of Emmanuel is what makes this story so different than any other pregnancy and birth. It is the story that reminds us that we are never ever alone. God is always with us. God did not have to become incarnate, but Emmanuel, was born to show humanity how much God loves us. To show us that even in our darkest moments as a human species and the darkest most painful periods of our lives God is with us. Always, no matter how badly we may try to fail the people around us or screw our lives up--God is with us.
And the only reason God chose to become incarnate was to try and help us understand how deeply we are beloved by God. God wants us to understand that we are each beloved children of God, and calls us to work together to make God’s dream for this world come true, ending the nightmare it is for so many. So this year as we make our way home with Emmanuel, how are you going to use the best Christmas gift ever given--the gift of God’s unconditional love? How are you going to accept that gift and let it heal your old and weary wounds? How are you going to accept that gift and share it with others this year? Amen.
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