Heaven and Earth Meet

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice!

For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

On Christmas, we celebrate the good news that heaven and earth meet; both are forever changed.  

On earth, we find Mary, an unwed, teenage mother: back aching, belly growing, placing foot in front of swollen foot, on that long dusty road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. She’s following Joseph, whose weary himself, carrying everything they own on his back--carrying the anxieties of a soon-to-be father in his mind. They dutifully line up with so many others in that very earthly task of being counted by the government (the powerful, corrupt Roman government) keeping track of its citizens to enact further forms of oppression.  

So many have crowded into this small town that there are no rooms in which to stay, no relatives with an extra bed. So they settle in for the night among the animals, making a bed on the hay, between the donkeys and sheep, amid the chickens and mice. Mary, with a nose almost as sensitive as her stomach, tries to block out the strong stench of animal waste. We just need to make it through this one night, Joseph says, then we can return home, as he tenderly brushes hay out of Mary’s hair. They lay on the cold earth, side by side, unable to sleep.  

High above them on a hillside reside shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Shepherds, so poor, so relegated to the margins of society that the government doesn’t even care to count them. They don’t have income to tax or power to steal. So they remain on their small patch of earth, tending to the lost sheep, providing wool for the emperors to wear. They, too, lay on the cold earth, side by side.  

The earth is cold, mired in poverty and oppression, fearful of violence and abuse. And yet somehow they keep going, foot in front of the other, shepherds content in their routine, Mary and Joseph experiencing what generations of expectant parents before them have: fear, excitement, inadequacy, hope that they can provide a warm home. By all accounts, an ordinary night on earth.  

Just as Mary and Joseph are drifting off to sleep in the barn, Mary awakes with a start; with excruciating pain, and she knows, without a doubt, that she is in labor: she cries, tries to breathe deeply, squeezes Joseph’s hand so tightly he loses all feeling. There is screaming and agonizing pain. The animals awake from their slumber, aware of the shift in the barn…Water breaks and blood comes out. This is birth in all of its messiness, as the mother’s screams make way for the baby’s first cries. Tears of pain turn to tears of joy, as Mary holds her baby boy in her arms. Joseph wraps him in swaddling clothes, and they place him in the manger, for there is no bed.  

Is there anything more earthly than the birth of a child?  

Is there anything more heavenly than the birth of a child?  

On Christmas, we celebrate the good news that heaven and earth meet; both are forever changed.  

Just as the shepherds are drifting off to sleep, they awake with a start. An angel of the Lord appears before them on their small patch of earth, glorious light shining all around. They are terrified, release screams of their own, when the angel says: Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This baby, this child-Messiah was apparently born on the very same earth on which they now reside, a few miles down the hillside, now laying in a manger, for there is no room for him in the inn. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing. Heavenly angels meeting these very earthly shepherds.  

Immediately, the shepherds follow the dusty trail to the manger, to meet their savior wrapped in swaddling clothes. Among a teenage mother a scared father, amidst the donkeys and sheep, chickens and mice, they discover the best news the world has ever known: God is born into the world.  

Heaven breaks in through earthly labor and the world is forever changed. Through the pain of a woman’s labor and the tears of a baby’s first breath, God is born. Peace is born into a violent world; love is alive in the presence of hate; justice grows up and proclaims release to the captives and good news to the poor; God eats with sinners and tax collectors, empowers women, heals the sick and feeds the hungry.

On Christmas, we celebrate the good news that heaven and earth meet; both are forever changed.  

Rev. Kate Floyd

Kate FloydComment