The season of Christmas has many different places. Some of us will travel to places across the world, others across the street to be with family and friends. We find ourselves maybe more than we want in places like shopping centers or the checkout line at the grocery store. For many people, twelve step meetings will be a place of Christmas; for others, work may be a place of Christmas. And of course, church is a place of Christmas.
In that familiar story we hear on Christmas Eve from Luke’s gospel, Mary and Joseph travel to a specific place. Because of a government census, they have to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem, the city of King David, to be registered there because Joseph is a descendant of David. When they get there, they are dis-placed. The city is so full of people who have returned to obey the census that there is not a room to be found. So a stable becomes THE place of Christmas. The place where Jesus is born.
The fields that the shepherds were in were also places of Christmas. Those fields were the place of good news and great joy. The angel appeared to them there and said, “Do not be afraid, 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 is the good news to all people: to you is born. Christmas is a birthing place. That birthing place is not just some event that happened long ago in a land far away. We gather in our churches week after week, year after year, to proclaim that the birthing of God happens all the time. The good news of Christmas is that God is born into our places. Gerard Manly Hopkins reminds us that we are the manger, the field, Bethlehem in this beautiful poem:
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now.
And makes, O marvelous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn.
Each of us is a ‘new Nazareth’ where Christ is conceived, and each of us is a new Bethlehem where Christ is born. This is the miracle of Christmas: that God has come to us, Word in flesh appearing and that we are invited to ‘flesh out,’ to ‘give birth’ to God in our lives.
Like Mary and Joseph, some of us might be displaced. Some of us may be on the brink of homelessness, while others of us may be displaced from the country of our origin. Maybe we find ourselves displaced in our relationships or families or jobs in this season. For those of us who are struggling with illness, we may feel displaced from our bodies or from the very medical care we need to survive. In our churches or our communities, we might feel like ‘there is no room for us in the Inn.’ The good news of Christmas is that God comes to us in the displaced parts of our lives and gives us hope and courage and strength for new life.
Christmas is a birthing place — a place where God is born into our places and a place where we are born. We hear the phrase ‘born again’ a lot. The miracle of Christmas is that all of us are ‘born again, and again, and again.’ Because of God’s gift in Christ at Christmas, we are invited to a journey of transformation, which is our continual birth in God’s love.