Nothing is going according to plan this year. This Christmas Eve we have no choir, no packed sanctuary, no real candles at the Outdoor service. We have had no Christmas pageant, or cookie exchanges, no Christmas caroling or live concerts. Everything is disrupted and we are re-inventing how to do this holiday like we have had to re-invent everything else sonce March.
This year, we find so many similarities with the Holy Family. At every turn in the Christmas story nothing went according to plan. Instead, everyone had to find ways to adjust to a new, jarring reality that had inserted itself.
Mary was engaged, but being pregnant by the Holy Spirit before the wedding, risking her future with Joseph, and even her life? Completely not part of the plan. Joseph was going to dismiss Mary quietly but instead, he is told in a dream to stay with her and raise this child as his own. That was not part of the pre-nuptial agreement nor any plan he ever imagined. Then at nine months pregnant, they had to travel on a donkey for 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem because the oppressive Roman Governor called for a census—that is part of no one’s birth plan, ever.
Of course, Joseph and Mary were the slowest travelers on the road, so they are the last ones into town; all of the guest rooms in their relative’s homes had already filled up. The only free space was in the common area toward the front of the house where the animals stayed at night. Mary and Joseph squeezed onto the edge of the raised platform where the animal’s feedboxes hung off the front of the living room floor. No one plans to give birth at the stable-end of a crowded home with distant relatives you had not seen in ages—or ever. That was totally not part of the plan. Joseph no doubt had a beautiful cradle already built and ready to go back home—but they could not carry that on a donkey. Putting their newborn son in the feedbox for animals was for a carpenter, certainly not according to plan. Even the shepherds—leaving their flocks at night—angels or not—risked losing their job. They could have lost sheep to wild animals. Abandoning your flock to witness a birth—even a miraculous one—is never part of the plan.
If you feel that absolutely nothing is going according to plan this Christmas, then I daresay, you can find good company with each character and at every turn in the Christmas story.
Perhaps like Mary, you feel that your life this year has taken a new direction. You did not seek it, but God found you in these changes. Now your life is on a new path—you do not know where it will lead or how it will all work out. You have a myriad of questions, but somehow you are still able to say, “yes.” Like Mary, you are willing to lean into the disruptions, to let it be, and find a way to accept these changes and see what comes. Instead of fighting it, you are becoming pregnant with possibilities. This Christmas, you are taking this disruption of your plans as time to wonder what God is up to, and to ponder all these things in your heart.
Or maybe you identify more with Joseph. You have so many responsibilities and commitments—you want to do the right thing and make sure everyone is ok, and everything is taken care of. You are not a person of many words—who has time for that when there is so much to be done? You look at your upside-down plans and see so much that must be made right, the people you love to keep safe, and obligations to fulfill. Your heart is disappointed at all the things you had hoped for that cannot happen—but it takes all you have to keep providing, to keep up with the changes, and to care for what matters, that you are content to stay in the background. You committed to God to care for your family and you will, adapting as you go. You keep taking care of the next step. Each night you pray that God will give you the nudge for the next right thing to do tomorrow.
Or perhaps, you are more like the relatives who live in Bethlehem. A census or a crisis of any kind means you are going to be in demand—people in need will be crowding in from everywhere. There will be hungry mouths, tired feet, sick people, mothers about to give birth, children needing attention, germs that will spread through the crowds. You adapt your plans to serve others, you do extra cooking, or sewing, you take extra work shifts, or do more childcare, you help your neighbors and family members in need. You have never seen a census crowd like this before, but you have been around the block enough to know that we all must step up and care for each other. You would like a family Christmas, but life has intervened—need is knocking on the door and you find a way to adapt and serve.
And what about you shepherds? It is not every night that your work is interrupted, and an unexpected event disrupts your plans, causing you to abandon your post and leading you toward a new vision of what God is up to. Perhaps this year is calling you to change directions, make a different choice, respond to the heavenly announcements, and decide to follow the testimony of a miracle. Surely some of them went back to the fields—as different shepherds—because they saw God in new way, and what deeply mattered to them had changed. And maybe some of them allowed the disruption of their plans to lead them in a new direction—maybe they decided to go back to school, or try a new job, or listen to God more closely before they did anything at all. Maybe like the shepherds, your work has been disrupted or completely changed, and now is the time to listen to God, to move toward Jesus, and to look and see what God has in store for you now.
There is no one perfect way to respond to the complete disruption of our life and plans—there are many ways to move forward with Christ as we journey with the Holy Family this Christmas. Because amidst all this disruption, there is one plan that holds steady and will not be derailed—and that is God’s plan of love to save and redeem us and the whole world through Jesus Christ. There is no power, no evil, no disease, no death, no devil—there is nothing that can disrupt God’s plan of salvation for the whole world begun in a manger, and there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is the plan that God wants us to cling to–not to schedules and events, traditions and rituals—as meaningful and joyful as they may be. God’s plan is in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and his salvation—there is no disruption in bringing that plan to reality. Regardless of the up-ended plans and even through the disruptions to Mary, Joseph, their extended family, and the shepherds, Jesus, our Savior is born. Birth does not wait, God does not wait, and neither does new life in Christ—it is available to us here and now, however we celebrate—together or alone, in person or on Zoom, with gifts or none at all. Jesus Christ is the only gift we need, and the truth of God’s love and power in our life can never be disrupted or destroyed.
That is our joy and our hope—we cling to Christ and God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. Christ our Savior is born! No matter how our plans have been disrupted or our life has changed this year, we all are included in God’s plan of life and grace forever in Christ Jesus our Lord. So rejoice, Christ our Savior is born!
Let us pray: Holy God, we rejoice in your gifts in this sacred night—for your great love in Jesus Christ, that nothing can disrupt, deter or destroy. Help us to cling to Christ and rejoice that our Savior is born. However we respond to changing plans—whether we lean in with Mary, hang in the background and take care of everything with Joseph, start serving with the relatives or change course with the shepherds, help us to know that we are all part of your plan of salvation for the whole world. Bring healing to those who are suffering, especially those close to our hearts..... Bring comfort to those who are grieving, especially to us as a nation with the extreme number of deaths from the coronavirus. Make something star-lit out of the places of sorrow, pain, and struggle in our lives. Help us to trust that no matter what, you choose to work through us to bring your hope, peace, and joy to others and to this world. Make us faithful bearers of Christ-like love so that we might participate in your plan of salvation for the whole earth. We pray in the life-giving name of Immanuel, God with us, Jesus, Our Savior and Lord, Amen.
Image: Latino Nativity, http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/2aa/2aa181.htm