God comes to us in unexpected ways and unexpected times, and the people around these close encounters of the divine kind don’t always recognize what is going on and really don’t get it. In our gospel passage today, the shepherds following an encounter with angels make haste to Bethlehem in search of Mary and Joseph and the special child. They declare to the parents and everybody else present what the angels had told them about the child, and everyone was amazed at what they heard. Mary treasured everything that was said and pondered them in her heart. The angels then returned pretty pumped up with awesome wonder, praising God for all that they had seen and heard.
At this wonderful pageant scene only, a handful came to recognize what was going on, a few shepherds and a few wise men from the East. There were so many travelers that there were no vacancies available. I’m sure many people were camping out in camps along the river, in people’s barns and anywhere else suitable they could. Fortunately, Mary and Joseph found a stable, but only a few recognized what was going on in this stable. What made this stable so special over all other lodging sites in Bethlehem was Jesus?
Eight days after his birth, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to have him circumcised according to Jewish law and custom. The temple is the center of all social and religious life in the city. People are coming and going all the time, perhaps hundreds every day. So, when the Holy Family enters the temple, they are not alone. There are people going and coming from all directions, family groups, big groups, smaller groups, individuals, priests and temple clergy. In this entire hubbub’ at least two people have a close encounter of the divine kind. Simeon recognizes the child, a child that he has been waiting to see, with a message that has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. He now shares that message with Joseph and Mary.
Another prophet named Anna, who never leaves the temple, but prays and fasts night and day. When she sees Jesus, she recognizes him immediately. She too begins to praise God and tell others about what is in store for this baby named Jesus. “Jesus is in the temple!”
In the 3rd chapter of Genesis we read that in the “cool of the day”, the best part of the day, the time that Adam and Eve, and the time that God look forward to: Walking with each other in conversation, enjoying each other’s presence in the cool of the day, having a close encounter of the divine kind, recognizing God every day in their lives. God wants to spend time with us.
He desires our company. He desires our fellowship, to live among us and walk among us and befriend us. Another example a few chapters later in Genesis is when three angels visit Abraham and Sarah. They do not know they are angels at first, but then their eyes are opened, and they too have a close encounter of the divine kind. One of the angels tells Abraham and Sarah that they will have a child. Sarah laughs, and says: “how can this thing happen? I am beyond the age of having children. This is impossible.” The angel tells her that nothing is impossible with God and even though she is old she will have a child, and he will be a leader of the people. And she does have a child whose name is Isaac, and he is included in the genealogy of Jesus.
This encounter is like the encounter of Mary with the angel Gabriel. Gabriel announces to Mary that she will have a child, and Mary says, “How can this be possible, I have never been with a man?” The angel tells her the same thing she tells Sarah. “All things are possible with God.” Sarah thinks she is too old to have children, and Mary thinks she is too young and unmarried.
God comes to us in a lot of different ways, and in his comings the people around do not necessarily see or get it. Mary is with child, and she visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is also with child. When Mary walks through the door, John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. This child, yet in the womb recognizes that Jesus has come into the house.
Jesus has come, but Jesus has also gone away. In the church we recognize the truths of Christ coming in our liturgy. We cannot remember his birth without putting into the context of Easter, Pentecost and the Second Coming of Christ. We use this phrase that has been a Memorial Acclamation in the first liturgies of the ancient church: “We remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory. “You can’t tell the Christmas story without remembering the Easter story, and you can’t tell the Easter story without remembering the Pentecost story, and you can’t tell the Pentecost story without talking about the church.
Jesus has come to dwell, to abide with us; to make his tabernacle here in this place, in this church, in the community, in your home and in your heart. Welcome Jesus into this place. You are God’s holy people, but you are God’s holy people because Jesus dwells in His church. Scripture tells us the church is the Body of Christ, and Jesus is the head of that church. Jesus dwells in this church collectively. All of us together, and individually, each of you are specific, special and unique members of this Body of believers. Jesus is in the house. Let us recognize him in our midst.
Let us recognize Jesus in our midst. May we say: “Jesus have communion with me. My time is now yours. The busyness of my life I lay at your feet. All the activities that are going on, all the things I must do, responsibilities and obligations, help me to lay them down. Come into my heart Lord Jesus. Have fellowship with me. Help me dear Lord to recognize and appreciate your presence in my life. May I too have a close encounter with you of the divine kind?
Today we recognize the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.