October 24, 2020

Christmas Eve 2012

“Luke is interested in the symbolism of the manger, and the lack of room in the lodgings may be no more than a vague surmise in order to explain the mention of a manger. This manger is not a sign of poverty but is probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.” Luke is proclaiming that the Isaian dictum has been repealed. Now, when the good news of the birth of their Lord is proclaimed to the shepherds, they go to find the baby in the manger and begin to praise God. In other words, God’s people have begun to know the manger of their Lord.”

– Raymond E. Brown, An Adult Christ at Christmas

* * *

The manger. On Christmas Eve, Luke’s deceptively simple birth narrative sets the rustic story of a baby’s birth within huge historical contexts. First, as Raymond Brown says above, the Gospel writer is weaving a tale that completes another square in the quilt of salvation history, as told by the storytellers and prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Second, Luke evokes images of Caesar Augustus, the “son of god,” the “savior,” and “lord” of the world, who was acclaimed for bringing “peace on earth” through Roman power.

The contrast magnifies the strange, upside-down ways of God’s grace. As Luke Timothy Johnson says, “Nothing very glorious is suggested by the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth. But that is Luke’s manner, to show how God’s fidelity is worked out in human events even when appearances seem to deny his presence or power” (The Gospel of Luke: Sacra Pagina). Humble people in simple settings bring about monumental events.

The shepherds. This observation applies to Luke’s inclusion of the shepherds in this narrative as well. His mention of “shepherds” evokes a remarkably complex set of Biblical reflections, from the patriarchal stories and poems in the Torah to the adventures of David, to the promises given by the prophets, such as Micah 4-5, which foretold that Judah’s salvation would be announced near Bethlehem, at Migdal Eder — the “tower of the flock” (Micah 4:8).

As you look at your creche on this Christmas Eve, as you delight in watching children in their bathrobes with shepherds’ crooks in their hands, as you think about the birth of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a feeding trough, thank God that he depends not upon grand political power, the exercise of power and domination, grand strategies and machinations.

No, it’s just about a couple having a baby.

In strange circumstances.

Changing the course of history.

Bringing down great rulers from their thrones.

Attracting the faithful of the land.

Bringing peace on earth.

A blessed nativity to you and yours.


  1. beautiful phrase, this: ” the strange, upside-down ways of God’s grace”

    paradox is difficult to explain, harder to understand, but even the smallest child can come to a manger scene and they are ‘at home’ there, they see, they understand . . . that in itself tells us much about the greatness of Our God

    Malcolm Guite’s ‘Emmanuel’:
    “O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
    O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
    O secret seed, O hidden Spring of Light.
    Come to us Wisdom, come Unspoken Name
    Come Root, and Key, and King, and Holy Flame,
    O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
    Be folded with us into time and place,
    Unfold for us the mystery of grace
    And make a womb of all this wounded world.
    O Heart of Heaven beating in the earth,
    O tiny Hope within our hopelessness
    Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
    To touch a dying world with new-made Hands
    And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.”

  2. “Bringing down great rulers from their thrones.” What could be more political than that? The Kingdom of God is a political reality, as Stanley Hauerwas has said again and again. That’s why rulers consider it a threat; if they don’t consider it a threat, it’s because they, the rulers, have succeeded in co-opting its historical institutions to their own ends. But the threat always is there, dormant or active.

  3. Brown’s connection with Is. 1:3 is amazing!


  4. Where’s the Caganer?

  5. Tonight I went to an evangelical church in Fairfax. I’ve popped up at many different ones in the DC area and this one has been a different surprise. Though, I’m skeptical I kind of feel myself being wooed back toward faith and life, instead of finding ways to pick it apart.

    At the service tonight the Pastor spoke about the problem of evil and the problem of sin. And how the incarnation was God’s way of dealing with the problem of evil. And he emphasized the humility of God in how he came and how he died. By being born in a troft and being executed on a cross. In talking about the problem of evil he just re-spoke of the Newtown, CT shooting and another one in NY where someone started a fire only to shoot and kill the first responders.

    The problem of evil is a biggie for me and faith. It stands in front of me like a mountain and I can’t bear to read the newspaper, watch the news, or read CNN online…because evil is all one reads about it seems.

    But toward the end of the sermon he spoke about how important were shepherds to the gospel. It was a good sermon and one that challenged me and my thinking. Yet while I write this part of me is so resistant to it.

    I guess if the gospel is true it would apply to the following:

    The adulterers, the alcoholics, those ensnared in pornography, the prostitute, the drug addict, the normal house wife, the work aholic in Washington, D.C., the fundagelicals, the homeless, the pregnant teenager, the mentally ill, the widow, the single parent, the atheist, the pastor living a double life, the gay person having sex in a porn theater, the inmate in San Quintin, etc…

    So I guess it would be for someone like me…maybe this holiday is all about being broken? Could that be the case? What if one is struggling to believe or feels a desire to believe but just can’t? Maybe Christmas is the offer of hope to a screwed up world. And an olive branch from God to a doubter like myself?

    I don’t know….

    Maybe instead of picking apart faith and finding an excuse not to believe…maybe I should try and find a reason to believe.

    I have a lot to think about as I pack for my trip tomorrow to California! 🙂

    Jeff and Chaplin Mike thanks for all your posts. You guys and the IM are like family to me! 😀

    • David Cornwell says

      Eagle, best wishes to you for a blessed Christmas.

    • Sounds like a preacher that gets it. A God that suffers every evil is the only God that can be called God in a world full of evil.

      And yes, the gospel certainly applies to the whole world, and not on a wishy washy potential or conditional basis. Objectively speaking, Christ took away the sins of the world. Christians sing about it every Sunday in the Agnus Dei. Of course, despite being freed from sin, many still reject Christ because they don’t like the whole idea of Jesus, or God in general. So it’s not that we need to find a reason to believe, it’s that we need to stop finding reasons not to believe.


  6. Blessings and love to all my I-Monks friends. I have just completed four graduate credits in eight weeks while working full time, and I am so tired and confused I don’t know whether to scratch my watch or wind my fanny.

    Family is here, no one is ill, and I am so grateful for all of this, and the folks here who have kep me sane and focused on the Lord of all. I cannot tell you all…especially Jeff and CM and all the guest writers and frequent commenters…..how much support I get here. My life would not end without I-Monk, but it would be SO much poorer. Merry Christmas, and love to you all from the very bottom of my heart.

  7. Merry Christmas Pattie & Eagle and all…