I believe the birth of Jesus was an historical event. It actually happened. A baby was born to a virgin. He was born in low circumstances and visited by shepherds, celebrated by Magi and announced by angels. I believe those things happened in the past. They are history.
But I also believe the birth of Jesus was historic. Not only did it happen but it also shaped all subsequent history. It made an impact so deep, so significant that over 2,000 years after the fact, we are still reeling from it, remembering it, reaching to grasp the meaning of it.
And we need the meaning of Jesus' birth more than ever. The world is one big tragedy, a mosaic of millions of private and personal losses, a pandemic of despair. Ours has become a world of half-hidden faces, touchless greetings, mandated isolation and viral loneliness. The cold technology of computer assisted connection is a poor substitute for a warm embrace. You cannot taste a sister's tear or touch the face of a child or hold a grandparent's wrinkled hand through a screen.
And yet, because of Jesus' historic birth, we still have hope. Once, long ago, God stepped into our circumstances in a way that was both mundane and miraculous and it changed everything. I believe he will do it again.
I believe Jesus was the promised Prince of Peace. That he did and will lead us to into places of quiet, soul-satisfying rest. I confess I do not always feel very peaceful. I often feel wasted, weary and anxious. In the words of Wordsworth, the world is too much with me too much of the time.
But when we attend this story, when we remember this history, that peace, that sense of wholeness, health and rest is restored. It is given, not bought. Received rather than forced. And though it outruns our ability to comprehend, we find our frenetic hearts steadied by this surpassing peace.
When the angel announced his birth to shaken shepherds, he called it good news of great joy for all the people. But not all of us feel that joy. Fun we can find. Comfort we can buy. But joy is hard to come by. We've caught glimpses of it in the wild – at a funeral home, a hospital corridor, a cancer center. It was fleeting but we saw it clear, vivid, in high definition. What we saw was not a myth and it was not magic. We saw people who should be overwhelmed with sorrow possessed instead of a strong and abiding joy, a deep and inexplicable happiness that contradicted their circumstances.
Some of us, though, have actually experienced that joy. We were the people receiving the grim news in the doctor's office. We were the ones standing by the mailbox reading the foreclosure notice. We tossed a handful of dirt and a fading flower into a grave. And we walked away with hearts full of joy.
Because of both the historical and historic birth of Jesus there is hope that defies the evidence, peace that passes understanding and joy that flies in the face of circumstances.
Have a Merry Christmas.