And so here we all are.
Here is Mary, exhausted. There’s a reason that childbirth is called labour: it’s a workout.
Here is Joseph, permanently bewildered, still not really sure what’s happening, but see the love that he has for this woman and her child. It is enough, it seems, for him to move heaven and earth to care for them.
Here is the ox, and the ass, enough said.
Here are some smelly shepherds. Sorry, but the fact is that they have been living on the hillside, keeping warm under a pile of sheep at night; God knows how long since they were last in town and had access to a shower. So, some smelly shepherds.
But it is the shepherds who give everyone pause for thought. They tell anyone who will listen that they were visited by angels, that the angels told them to come into this most intimate and invitation-only of places, the delivery room. They justify their outrageous breach of etiquette, health and hygiene, and basic common sense with a tale of heavenly choruses and peace on earth.
No wonder all who heard it were amazed. I think that might have been an understatement.
But Mary, who had the greatest reason to resent their intrusion, to reject their advances, to kick them out on the street no questions asked; Mary recognized the angel’s style from her own encounter. Mary treasured their words, and kept them in her heart to consider later, when she might have had some sleep.
It was the song of the angels that sang her to sleep that night:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom God favours.
This most highly favoured lady knew how to sing the Gloria to God. But what of this peace on earth? She had grown up in a time of oppression, rebellion, and Romans. Never, almost never, had the country known peace. Let alone the whole earth. So she pondered these things in her heart.
[Along with the pageant children, we had a brief discussion about what it might mean to ponder peace on earth, and whether we might come up with any good ideas.]
We have been puzzling about peace on earth for millennia, and it seems that so far we have not found a better solution than Jesus’ suggestion that we start by loving God, and finish up by loving the image of God in one another.
Jesus, the baby in the manger.
When our bishop was here a couple of months ago, he found himself visiting the weekend after a five-month-old baby died after being shot in her car seat in Cleveland. Do you remember that? He told us that if that child had been brought here for baptism, we each, we all would have promised to do everything in our power to raise her in the love of the Lord, which means, first of all, to let her live. And then, it means, to do everything in our power to realize that peace on earth which passes our understanding right now, so that she might know nothing but the love of God, reflected in those around her, living in peace and goodwill with one another.
Angel dust dreams.
Innocent child, born into a less than innocent world.
There is a reason that God came to us as an infant, as vulnerable as a human being can be, completely dependent upon the permission of the world to let him live. And then, as all children are, in need of great love, if he is to know the love of God, the love of neighbour, the love which passes all understanding.
He is born as a baby, so that when he is brought before us, we cannot help but promise to do everything in our power to protect him, to help him to grow in the love of the Lord, and for a moment, as we look on him and love him, mellowed by the Christmas light and evolutionary programming to protect the young; for a moment, we really mean it all.
That is where peace on earth begins, in hearts and minds that really mean it all: the love of God, the love of neighbour, the love for every child, because each one bears the image of God, each one is a child of the living, loving God of all.
This is where peace begins, in the words of the angel: Do not be afraid; in the confused faith of the smelly shepherds; in the warm acceptance of the ox and the ass; in the gentleness of Joseph; and the labour of Mary.
This is where peace begins, in the infant born in the image of God, the saviour of the world. Amen.