Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
1st Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
2nd Reading: Titus 2:11-14
“In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God,” begins the Gospel according to John. His account links the story of Jesus to the beginning of Creation. In the beginning, God spoke and all creation came into being, God's every word coming to life, the planets and stars, the sun and moon, the land and sea, the animals and all creeping things bursting forth through God's imagination and creative power. Finally God created humankind in God's image, someone who would be aware of God, someone that God could talk to. We all know that God was not done creating in 6 days, nor is God done creating, yet.
The scriptures tell us, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” God has a heart for this world and for all the people who have walked in darkness. God's love grows and grows. It isn't a kind of love that makes sense. The people hurt each other. They turn their back on God, on their values, on who they are, but still God's love grows. And God tries to show that love in so many ways. God tries guiding the people, speaking through prophets, granting kings to rule, giving a home, rescuing them, punishing them, teaching them, and so on. Some of this love is noticed and received and reciprocated, but much of it goes unnoticed. Still God has this love for the people, a heart bursting with love. God knows if the people knew they were so loved, they wouldn't treat each other so poorly, they'd value themselves, they would live loving lives. Finally God's love grows so strong, that it is literally born into this world. From God's heart comes this child, this human with a heart beating with love for all of us.
One of the most anticipated times for a couple who is pregnant, is hearing the heartbeat of the fetus for the first time. That fast-paced whooshing is hardly what we expected, especially after such a long search for the sound. It turned out our child was 3 weeks younger than they thought—a heartbeat much more difficult to find. Yet there it was. And it became reassuring each time we went in for exams leading up to our child's birth. And yet more reassuring after I took a fall in my 8th month and sat listening to that sound for 4 hours straight in the hospital. And finally listening to that sound on the day I gave birth, as they monitored us, a sound that gave me the strength to push with all my might to bring my baby into this world.
The heartbeat of one child was a miracle to us. They didn't have stethoscopes in Jesus' day, but I have watched, “Call the Midwife” and they did have something that they may very well have had in Jesus' time, a kind of cone shaped device that the nurse puts up to the enlarged belly of the mother through which they can hear the baby's heartbeat. The beating heart of God has been developing within the Christ child, a quick whooshing, sending blood and mother's nutrients from the umbilical cord throughout the body. These nutrients passed by the beating of the mother's heart to her child, the same mother's heart who pondered the announcement of the angel 9 months before, the same mother's heart which is pondering the words of the shepherd, the same mother's heart who will cradle this child close, the same mother's heart which will break when the world treats her son so cruelly. The fetal Jesus hears her heart beating, as he grows in the womb, and when he is born it will be one of the things that will calm him, as she holds the infant Christ to her chest, because of his familiarity with that reassuring sound.
I was curious to see, when I went shopping at Barnes and Noble for my 14 year old niece, a pen that you give to a child that will read the book to them in your voice. This would be the perfect gift if a parent has to be away for a long period of time, incarcerated or called up in the armed services or if grandma lives far away. I hope parents don't get lazy and let the pen read for them. I am all about reading and sometimes I get tired of reading “And the Cow Said Moo” to my child because I don't have to even look at the pages anymore, I've got it memorized, but there is something so miraculous about sitting down together with a book, reading, laughing, pointing out pictures, asking questions, and snuggling, holding a child close to our heart. I hope that this pen would only be used in emergencies. And I realize what a miracle it is that I live in a place and time when I am literate, that books are common and available to me, and that I have the time and resources to own hundreds of them and a happy, healthy child who still wants to sit and read with me. So rather than berate others, I will give thanks that I get to hold my child close and read to him, even if we are going to read, “And the cow said moo.” There is nothing like being there in person, and that is what God had in mind when God came to earth in Jesus Christ.
In person, God holds us close. We are God's children, and we are comforted by the sound of God's beating heart. To come as a child, to sneak into our hearts, to bring God's heart so close to us, to interact with us, to teach us, to laugh with us, to suffer with us, it is a miracle. We find ourselves close to the heart of God, listening to it beat with love for us and for all God's children and Creation, sharing stories together, interacting, loving, learning values, beating hearts affecting each other and growing in love.
When we really listen, we might realize that God still has a broken heart because God loves so deeply. God's heart is broken because there God's children are going hungry, because they live in slavery and fear, because their beating hearts are not valued, because we get so wrapped up in the beating of our own heart and whether it skips for joy because we own the latest gadget, or a new car, or fancy jewelry that we forget that our brothers and sisters need us and that their hearts beat with the love of God, too. God's heart breaks for every heart in Ferguson, for members of ISIS and their victims, for every drug lord and heroin addict, for every abusive parent and battered child, for all who walk in darkness, for a great light has shined, the light of Christ for every child of God, according to our Titus reading, “bringing salvation to all.”
It may seem that each of us has a heart that serves just one person. One heart for each body, but as God holds us close, may we remember the heart that God gave us, one that nourishes us, a miracle in itself, but also one that was open to others who are different, that felt compassion for those in need, and especially that was willing to quit beating out of great love for all Creation. God didn't come into this world with a beating heart to keep God's own heart beating, but so that ours would beat again with the familiar sound of God's heart, the sound of justice, the sound of joy, the sound of praise, the sound of love. Maybe we get so used to hearing it that we tune it out, and only notice it when it is absent, that quiet that sounds so loud after Jesus breathed his last. But Jesus' death didn't mean that God's love was gone, but only that it expanded to include all who had gone before and all who had died for all time.
So let us take a moment in this busy season to turn off the Christmas music, to stop moving for even an instant, to listen not for jingling bells but for the heartbeat of God. God is holding us close to God's own heart to tell us how much God loves us, to show us how much God loves all our brothers and sisters, how much God loves this beautiful world, and to give us the courage and strength and peace to glorify and praise God with every beat of our heart, until all have a chance to experience the heart of God and be enfolded in God's love.