In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for 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 will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:1-20
The early church taught Christians to look for the Light coming into the world at the darkest time of the year - nine months after the spring equinox. This gentle, obscure light emerges from the darkness in the most fragile form of a newborn baby.
The Advent discipline of awareness continues into Christmas eve night (Meditation One) so that the light might arise in my heart in that blessed of all nights. The holy star's light leads me to my better self, illuminating my actions (Meditation Two) so that I might witness, like the shepherds, in the many Bethlehems of our own time (Meditation Three).
May the Light of Christ shine in your hearts, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) The First Star In Russia, the custom exists of fasting [on the Christmas vigil] until the first star appears. This brings to mind both the star which led the magi to Bethlehem and Christ who is the true light. May this day also be a day of fast in our souls: let us abstain from all bad or useless thoughts and speech, and await in silence and composure the savior who is coming to us. Darkness falls. Soon the first star will rise and mark, according to the church calendar, the start of the new day and of the great feast of Christmas. With the rising of this star, may the light of our Lord rise for us so that, in the words of the apostle Peter, "Ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts."
-A monk of the Eastern church A Year of Grace of the Lord quoted from A Christmas Sourcebook, Liturgy Training Publications
We saw Thee in Thy balmy nest, Young dawn of our eternal day; We saw Thine eyes break from the East, And chase the trembling shades away: We saw Thee, and we blest the sight, We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light.
To Thee, meek Majesty, soft King Of simple graces and sweet loves! Each of us his lamb will bring, Each his pair of silver doves! At last, in fire of Thy fair eyes, Ourselves become our own best sacrifice!
-Richard Crashaw 1613(?)-1649 Verses from the Shepherd's hymn
A stable lamp is lighted
A stable lamp is lighted /Whose glow shall wake the sky; The stars shall bend their voices, / And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry, /And straw like gold shall shine; A barn shall harbor heaven, /A stall become a shrine.
This child through David's city /Shall ride in triumph by; The palm shall strew its branches, /And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry; /Though heavy, dull, and dumb, And lie within the roadway /To pave his kingdom come.
Yet he shall be forsaken, /And yielded up to die; The sky shall groan and darken, /And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry, /For stony hearts of men: God's blood upon the spear-head, /God's love refused again.
But now, as at the ending, /The low is lifted high; The stars shall bend their voices, /And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry, /In praises of the Child By whose descent among us /The worlds are reconciled.
-Richard Wilbur b.1921
Adoration by the Shepherds, Carravaggio, 1609, CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Meditation Two (Insight) Lead Me By The Star's Light
Moonless darkness stands between. Past, O past, no more be seen! But the Bethlehem star may lead me To the sight of him who freed me From the self that I have been. Make me pure, Lord: thou art holy; Make me meek, Lord: thou wert lowly; Now beginning, and always: Now begin, on Christmas Day. -Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844-89 As the sun illumines not only the heaven and the whole world, shining on both land and sea, but also sends rays through windows and small chinks into the furthest recesses of a house, so the Word, poured out everywhere, behold the smallest actions of our life. -Clement of Alexandria c.150-215
Meditation Three (Integration) Set Out For Bethlehem
Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace. Our text refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God's messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so. Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days.
-Dorothee Soelle On Earth As In Heaven
The Last Word
Good news; but if you ask me what it is, I know not; It is a track of feet in the snow, It is a lantern showing a path, It is a door set open.