The Birth of a Resemblance

Tomorrow morning, as we are waking up,

across the world in the southern hemisphere,

history will be made at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou

– a region of France (surprisingly enough, at least to me) in South America.

The “James Webb Space Telescope”

is planned for launch at 7:20 tomorrow morning.

And is the most powerful telescope ever built and sent to space.

Right now it is residing inside of a rocket weighing 7 tons,

And built at a cost of 10 billion dollars.

And it will leave our planet and penetrate the deepest darkness of space

to return pictures and data to us from the enormity of God’s expanding cosmos.

If all goes well, the telescope should transform ASTRONOMY,

helping us to better understanding ourselves and our place in the created order

By adding to our knowledge of distant planets, stars, and space phenomena.

The project has been in the works for decades but has been postponed numerous times

And scientists say now there will be no more delays.

It will be launched in a historic moment to success or failure on Christmas Day.

The scientistic community says it is “unbelievable” that this is finally happening,

Especially after so many postponements,

And some admit that the launch could very well fail. 

One prominent scientist working on the project said,

“Even though there is a high probability of failure, we must dare to dream.”

God dares to dream of a mission unlike any this world has ever seen,

launching into our lives with good news of great joy

that is coming ever nearer to us.

God is not moving away from us, but closer.

No delays can prevent God from piercing the darkness and coming

into our lives with the most powerful love in the universe.

The Christmas child, our Lord Jesus, born in the flesh is the project of God’s love

planned since before this world came to be.

He is the Christmas gift given to you and to me

And for all people,

in every city and country around the globe,

to bring the light of God’s presence to transform us

as we come to understand, through him, what it means to be really human

and as we learn from him how to forgive and to share and to love.

His arrival, so long waited for,

begins with an announcement by the angel of the Lord

who penetrates the veil between the world we cannot see and this world

in the skies over Bethlehem

to encounter the shepherds in the fields, and say:

“Do not be afraid!”

“For see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

These angelic words are words for you and me.

And they are timely words, if I ever heard any.

This simple imperative: Do not be afraid.

These are words that aren’t just for long ago

And the ears of these sleepy shepherds stuck working the night shift.

These are words for THIS world…

Which is wracked by concern and anxiety

about the omicron variant of the coronavirus;

These are words for THIS world…

Which is sequestered in a second Christmas season

deflated by restrictions on our gatherings,

These are words for THIS world… of supply chain backup and rising inflation,

governmental infighting,

digital identity-theft scams

and career and educational burnout… 

The encouragement not to be afraid is for THIS world in all is weariness.

And yet, my friends, how can we live without fear?

How can we find the courage for life in this world?

Is it that in the middle of winter and the darkest, coldest nights

we have the glow of the yearly Christmas festival to make us forget our fear?

But then, we know, the decorated tree will end up at the curb,

And then after all the stress of finding presents for loved ones

(that we hope will arrive in time)

they will simply be eaten up or will wear out or be outgrown.

Is this what gives us the hope to live without fear?

Or maybe we have no fear because of what some people say:

that God will not give us more than we can handle.

…Even though I think many of us have been carrying more than we can handle

for a little over a year and a half now

and new worries and more bad news are being loaded up on top all the time.

How can we have confidence to live without fear?

Is it that God promises us eternal life in a heaven

somewhere far away and high above all this

real, earthly-life stuff

where one day all this will be a just dream

and we can float in some disembodied utopia?

No?

Surely, if we know how to live in this world without fear,

there is a world out there that would like to know too.

And the angels tell us: “do not be afraid, because a child is born.” 

The angel of the Lord says to you and me this night,

“See – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

To you and for you in the city of David is born a Savior. 

He is the Messiah, the one for whom you have waited. 

He is the Lord – your Maker, made flesh.”

What bright and joyous news that come in this promise to you and me.

There is no more delay: The child is born.

And in his life, heaven has come to earth,

forgiveness has come to us who were bound by sin,

freedom has come to those who were plagued by guilt,

life has come to the whole creation destined for decay and death.

In this child Jesus, we learn what God is like.

Our 6- and 7-year-olds, like many children during the pandemic,

did part of their education online. 

We worried about the added screentime

and the disconnection from an in-person classroom. 

We wanted to supervise them more than we could

but sometimes they simply had to be left alone. 

We had to resort to hoping for the best

and hoping they could learn to do things on their own.

At some point, they figured out how to make it look like they were going to school

when they were doing other things. 

They figured out how to go to YouTube

and watch videos of their own choosing. 

There’s a lot on the internet that’s not for young eyes. 

And they have always been interested in natural, human processes.

So they were proud to come and tell us

about how they had looked up and found and watched on YouTube

a video of a baby being born.

And at first, we thought maybe they had seen a cartoon or something,

But when we asked them their impressions of such a thing

our daughter said,

“I had no idea a baby being born was so bloody!”

A human birth is a beautiful, terrifying, and holy event

And yes…there is a lot of blood.

It is a messy event. 

Before the child arrives, there is sweat from labor,

piercing cries, and otherwise-unimaginable exhaustion…

and then of course the mucus plug is expelled,

the amniotic membrane ruptures and the water breaks,

and the child arrives in mucus and water and blood. 

And Jesus was born like this.

With his own small body of flesh and blood and bone,

tiny eyelashes, and wisp of hair. 

Jesus was unafraid to be born, covered in birth fluids,

into this fractured, anxious, weary, messy world for us.

God is not afraid to be with us in the mess of our hearts,

the mess of our homes,

the mess of human community

that refuses to take care of one another,

and refuses to do what is necessary for the health of the most vulnerable,

and refuses to seek understanding in humility and work together. 

God is unafraid to come to us

in this cold, hard, dangerous world of viruses, natural disasters, and war;

to bring peace and risk rejection.

Because just as there was no room for him in the inn,

there would be no room for Jesus’ ministry in the streets

among the poor and the lowly

as he healed the outcast, the sick, the unpopular, the excluded.

There would be no room for Jesus’ message of love of neighbor

and peace between nations

and so, just as on the night of his birth,

the world would reject him.

And this time, it would be not his mother, but he himself who would be the one in labor,

as the sweat and the piercing cries and the exhaustion

and the blood are his own,

as he gives birth to our salvation in his death on the cross.

There, in his blood pooling at the foot of this Tree of Life,

In the moment that looks like the project of God’s love fails to launch,

And comes crashing down,

We find God’s greatest success:

In this event we are born into God’s Kingdom and family forever. 

And so: “Do not be afraid!” 

God is with you in the worst of life,

in the grief,

in the closing in of the darkness,

and in death.

The same child who was laid in a manger for you would be laid in a tomb for you.

And this same Jesus, three days after his crucifixion,

was raised and appeared to his disciples to say,

“look at my hands and feet, and see that now I am truly living.

See what I have done for you, and for this reason, do not be afraid!”

Be confident in God’s mercy and be not afraid,

God’s endless peace and God’s eternal joy are for you,

for all people, and for all this weary world.

He has come to feed you, to heal you,

to help you, to save you,

and to make you God’s own children.

And in regards to children,

we often ask about the resemblances in the family  

and speculate about their features and from whom they are inherted.

What about you?

Do your eyes look more like your father or your mother?

Do you stand like your grandmother? 

Laugh like your aunt? 

Do you have the same walk as your cousin?

Because God, in this birth, has claimed us as his own children

We resemble Jesus.

We walk just like him…with his humility. 

We look just like Jesus in the way we stand… 

with confidence in the knowledge our God’s merciful kindness. 

We could be mistaken for Jesus…

Because we have his calm countenance of watchfulness for God at work in the world. 

Our hands look like his hands….

serving like his,

with the same graciousness that anticipates the needs

of those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, and who shutter from wounds 

that only God’s gentle caring touch can heal.

Our lips are the spitting image of Jesus’ lips

carrying the same message of God’s angel armies to this weary, messy world:

“Do not be afraid!

For see, we are bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

To you is born in the city of David, a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” 

So do not be afraid…

This child is born for us

And he is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And his authority shall grow continually,

and through him there shall be endless peace.

Thanks be to God.

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