All other living things on earth were created at God’s command. Adam and Eve are formed by God’s hand. Humanity arises not simply from Divine Command, but from Divine conversation. “Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness.” Man was to be the pinnacle of creation. All that God made was placed under the dominion of Adam and Eve. And God saw all that he had created, and it was very good.
But it did not stay very good. Sin wreaked havoc on the perfect creation. Death and decay now reigned. And Satan, the prince of this world, tries to destroy and corrupt everything God has made. His goal is to stop the plan of God entirely. Of course, that’s not possible. So he settles instead for keeping as many as he can from God, from the salvation he offers.
In the garden, when Adam and Eve committed quiet violence against God’s command, when they ate from the tree, when they tried to be like God by their own efforts, they became enemies of God instead. And so, God promised a Savior. From the seed of the woman. But, it was not to be her firstborn son as she expected. There would be generation after generation. Waiting for the promise, abandoning the promise, working even against the promise. A cleansing flood would not stop the sinful world from continuing on the path of death.
And so, finally, when the world was still, and it was midnight, the Savior descended from his royal throne, he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. Today, we celebrate the singular honor – God is one of us. We hear the prophecy. The history that fulfills it seems at first to be a non-starter. An unmarried girl, in a small town, almost getting divorced before she is married. It is the angel that speaks to Joseph, and tells him that Mary has not been unfaithful.
But in the account in Luke, the first name we hear is Caesar Augustus. He is the one who, thinking he is just being clever with taxes, sets in motion events that will lead Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Quirinius plays a minor role as well, carrying out the command of the emperor, thinking that he is being a faithful governor for Rome, without ever knowing what role he is really playing. And so, Joseph and Mary leave Nazareth, and begin the journey. Seventy miles. Nine months pregnant, walking from Decatur to Muncie. If as some early legends tell us, they had a donkey, then it’s still nine months pregnant, and riding a donkey from Decatur to Muncie. Maybe that’s a better situation, maybe it isn’t. But either way, it’s not exactly a glorious beginning for the Son of God.
And so, when all is said and done, a baby boy. Mary, pondering all that has happened. Luther says that this is Luke’s way of saying Mary heard and learned God’s word. She was thinking about the promise of the angel. To her cousin Elizabeth, to her. Of the long journey. The strange birth. And of course, the shepherds. Keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Luther holds them up as examples – they were doing their jobs when God visited them. The priests, Levites, scribes, rulers of the people didn’t get so much as a postcard. The shepherds in the field – on maternity duty for their sheep – they are the ones who see the glorious vision. Who hear the song, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” Glory be to God on high.
And so, Mary, simply and humbly hearing and learning the word is blessed, and is a blessing. Those shepherds, simply and humbly doing their jobs are blessed, and are a blessing. How would we know of the angel choirs, unless the shepherds saw it, and unless the shepherds told Mary, and then Mary told the Evangelist.
What God did not become, he could not save. And so, he comes into the world as one of us to save us. He is counted with the sinners, to save sinners. Luke records the events of Jesus’ nativity, but he seems to do so from the perspective of heaven.
And yet, it’s the simple and humble, not the glorious and exalted. Luther says that if God picked up a piece of straw, it would be a glorious act because he is so much greater than we. And so it is. God chooses humble things. But those humble things become glorious when used by our heavenly Father, for He is glorious.
In the account from Luke, we have a poor virgin, devout Joseph, a long journey, humble lodgings, some ragged shepherds. But we have the incarnate God come to save you from your sins. Christ did not come to destroy creation. He came to transform it. He came to redeem. To serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. And so it is that He comes humbly. To show that He came not to save kings and princes. But He came to save all. Especially the poor and the needy.
As we, with Mary, ponder these things in our heart, we consider Mary, who was given the honor of being the mother of God. And we consider all those who hear and believe, who are now children of God. We consider the shepherds, who saw those angels sing. We consider the church, where the song continues to be sung. And we consider the callings to which God has called us.
Father mother, son daughter, student, employer, employee, it doesn’t matter. God gives us work in this creation. And as we fulfill that work, we are, like those shepherds blessed by God. We do not work to merit anything from God. But in fulfilling our vocation, in faith, we live out the forgiveness won by Jesus” death on the cross.