A Sign For You
Luke 2:8-14 NRSV 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!”
I sometimes find myself reading scripture and smiling to myself – God has a sense of humor I think. As the birth moment approaches angels are dispatched, shepherds are startled, sheep scatter in every direction, and the message is given: “This will be a sign for you, you will find a child, wrapped in bands of cloth, and lying in a manger.” OK, so the lying in a manger part is a bit unusual, but everything else is so common and domesticated in Luke’s gospel. There are no magi, or stars stopping over the manger in Luke. No expensive gifts borne by exotic travelers. Just a child. There were probably 100 infants wrapped in bands of cloth that night in the region around Bethlehem. I mean if you are going to give a sign that the child of God has just been born, seems like something really unique should be given as the sign – the baby speaks Latin at birth, or the child glows like a 70-watt bulb, or something!
I think God is so great and so cool, and so powerful that I start thinking that the signs really should be spectacular. Most of the time, however, the signs are the sort of thing that does not call attention to itself. Indeed, now that I think of it they are often something that must be looked for – something that only those with eyes to see and ears to hear can embrace.
On this holy eve I wonder what will be the signs given to you and me? What ordinary, common scenes will hold the key to encountering the love of God incarnate?
What familiar domestic moment will be our sign?
And yet it should not be overlooked that the shepherds were invited to leave familiar fields and go in search among the urban avenues of Bethlehem. So I imagine that all who desire to find the love of God incarnate will at some point be asked to leave what is familiar and strike out into the unknown in search of the Christ-child.
Wherever we go we are assured that the God we pursue is for us and for all people. So let us join our voices with the choirs of angels declaring, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
God whose incarnation is both a spectacle of angelic proportions and a humble beginning in fields and mangers, you reveal yourself to us in cosmic disturbances and in the weary cooing of mother and infant. Help us who are so in need of the good news of your coming to embrace again the good news announced so long ago on the hills and in the streets of small-town Palestine. And let us join the shepherds, and angels and parents marveling at your love come down. Amen.