Summary: The real beauty and power of Christmas is how it is as mundane as it is holy, secular as it is sacred, temporal as it is eternal, physical as it is spiritual, worldly as it is heavenly … and this is by design.
Today’s scripture reading reminds me of Christmas hymns like “Angles We Have Heard on High” in which the angels “sweetly sing o’er the plans” (UMH, verse 1; p.238) or “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” … “glory to the newborn King” (UMH, verse 1; p. 240). Songs like these beautifully capture the drama and pageantry of Heaven heralding the arrival of Emmanuel, God Incarnate. The song “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” however, captures a completely different sense of that night, when the whole world was silent, completely unaware that the “Everlasting Light” (UMH, verses 1,4; p. 230) had come to abide with us.
For me, the real beauty and power of Christmas is how it is as mundane and secular as it holy and sacred … how it is as much temporal as it is eternal … how it is as physical as it is spiritual … how it is as worldly as it is heavenly … and this is by design.
To answer our prayers … to save us … God took on flesh and became as one of us. And like us, He lived in and experienced this world in exactly the same way that we do. For example, He didn’t just snap His fingers and appear “in the flesh” … He came into the world in the very same way that you and I and every human being from the beginning time of came into this world … through a woman. Jesus came into this world … our world … in the exact same way that every Buddhist, every Muslim, every Christian, every pagan, every atheist came into this world. Every person alive today came into this world in the same way … every person alive today has a mother and a father.
While “birth” is a miraculous thing and could be considered by some as a “sacred” event, it’s a very mundane part of the human experience … and before you get mad at me because you think I’m down-playing the miracle and drama of birth, the word “mundane” means “earthly, worldly rather than heavenly or spiritual.” We’ve come a long way since Jesus’ time but births still take place in secular places like hospitals or homes … sometimes in taxi cabs or wherever … once the baby decides it’s time, amen? But it doesn’t usually happen in churches or temples. You can’t get more “mundane” that being born in stable, amen?
The point I’m trying to make here is that the first Christmas took place in a very worldly, mundane, secular setting. There was no priest, no rabbi, no prophet, no preacher found anywhere in or near that stable that night. The angels appeared to the shepherds in the field … but they, along with what they do, tending and guarding sheep, was considered extremely mundane and common.
The trivial can play a tremendous role in history. Never underestimate the impact of the seemingly insignificant. When the Persians invaded and conquered the Holy Land in 614 A.D., they did not destroy the oldest church in the world …the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. They attacked and destroyed every other Christian holy site except this one because of one tiny detail … over the doorway of the Church of the Nativity is a golden mosaic depicting the Wiseman offering their gifts to the holy family. The Persians weren’t impressed by the holiness or religious significance of the mosaic but by the fact that the Wiseman were Persian … and the only way that you could tell that the Wiseman were Persian was by their headdress and the way that they were dressed. This trivial secular detail saved the Church of the Nativity and the site of Jesus’ birth was preserved.
The book, “The Ugly American,” is about an ugly-faced American engineer by the name of Homer Atkins. He was sent to Vietnam to build dams and roads. While he was there, he solved a century old problem by designing a bicycle treadmill pump. No longer did the women have to carry water in pails up the hillside to water the paddies. At the same time, his wife Emma noticed that almost every woman over 60 had a bent back. As she observed their daily routines, she noticed that the brooms that the women were using had very short handles and that the women had to bend over to use them. She found out that the reason they made the handles so short was because wood was very expensive and in short supply.
After doing some research, Emma discovered that there was a certain type of tall reed that grew wild there. The reed was not only long but was as strong as wood. She tied some coconut fronds to the bottom of the reed and then invited some of her neighbors to come over and see the new broom that she had invented. It caught on. Years later, when Homer and Emma were back living back in Pittsburgh, they received a letter from the villagers, part of which went like this …