Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
It was one of those moments that I will always remember. The biggest game of the year came down to one play. It was the fourth quarter with very little time left. I was a junior at St. Stephen’s in Alexandria and our archrival Episcopal High School was driving down the field. We were leading by three and the homecoming crowd was going wild. If we could hold them for this series then the game and the bragging rights would be ours. The center snapped the ball and the quarterback started running to his left with the tailback three yards behind him and to his outside. It was an option play and as linebacker I began to move toward the ball. The offensive tight end who had been giving me fits all day turned to meet me and slipped on the wet grass. I was alone, unblocked and as the quarterback pitched the ball, I was right there. With my shoulder down and my head up, I tackled the tailback as the ball reached his arms, almost five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The ball shot into the air, we recovered the fumble and the victory was ours. And I must add, that was the 11th time in a row we had beaten Episcopal.
They say that everyone has at least five minutes of fame and that was mine. It was a real thrill for a sixteen year old and I
relished the moment. Many of us have had such moments – moments of thrill and excitement when people have applauded and patted you on the back. Moments when you felt the whole world was watching you and cheering you on in whatever you were doing. You know the times of which I am speaking: graduations, weddings, baptisms, awards banquets, special birthday parties, retirement parties, or the big game. So often, we are told that the really big moments in life are just like these – the loud public moments accompanied by much fan fare. They are the moments we are told that ought to mark the most significant times in our lives. The watershed events, the life changing situations that bring with them a little fortune or fame. But I don’t quite think that these events, as wonderful as they are, are necessarily the most important, or the times by which we are meant to mark our success or failure. You see, to me, these public moments, even though they are fantastic, are simply that – public moments. I believe that there are other times, very quiet and private times, that are equally as important if not more so, and it is these moments that really give us our deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
This night marks one such quiet, private time in the history of the world. Two thousand years ago in a country very different from our own, something amazing happened without the slightest notice. Mary and Joseph were no one in particular. She was a rather poor girl from a rather poor family who had accepted a proposal of marriage from a young carpenter who had neither fame or fortune. Together they had traveled to the town of Bethlehem to be counted as part of the Roman census. But the town was crowded and they knew no one. They weren’t anyone
special and so there were no strings they could pull when told that the inn was full. Instead, they had to settle for a barn; just grateful they had some place to sleep that was dry and warm. Sometime during the night, Mary went into labor. Hours later she brought her first child into the world, wrapped him in loose pieces of cloth and laid him in a trough used to feed the cattle. A young couple became parents that night and a new life was brought into the world, but hardly anyone noticed.
Some people think it is ironic that God was born into the world without notice or publicity. They think it is quaint that Jesus was born into such quiet, humble beginnings. After all, no one even noticed except for a few shepherds and three wandering wise men. And yet, it seems to me that this is the way God often works in the world. Even in the Old Testament, it isn’t often that God’s thundering voice is heard making divine proclamations. Rather, isn’t it God’s way to speak great things quietly? Isn’t it God’s way to bestow the most wonderful blessings with hardly a whisper? God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai out of a cloud, to Elijah out of sheer silence, to Joseph in a dream. No, it seems to me to be very much in keeping with God that his Son should be born in such a quiet and humble way.
My point in all of this is that perhaps the greatest moments of our lives are not necessarily the ones that bring with them the greatest fanfare. No, perhaps the greatest moments in our lives are the ones that seem rather insignificant on the outside to anyone who might be watching. For me, even though causing that game winning fumble was a magical moment, what is far more special to me are the few words my father spoke after the game – “I am
proud of you son.” And while my wedding was a wonderful occasion, it isn’t the wedding that lives in my soul, rather it is that very special and loving look that came into Melissa’s eyes when she said, “In the Name of God, I Melissa, take you Randy, to be my husband.” And there is no way to describe how powerfully life changing it was when Marshall and then Eliza first called me Daddy.
Christ was born this night and with his birth the world changed forever. Over the centuries, we have turned this special time into a loud and very public party. Perhaps that is as it should be. But the most important part of this night is not what happens in our celebrations but what can potentially happen in our hearts. If God speaks to each one of us out of the depth and silence of our lives then Christ waits patiently and quietly to be born in each of us, to fill that empty place inside of you and me that no amount of acclamation or public approval can ever touch. Behind our very loud and public celebrations this Christmas there is a very quiet and personal God who waits to change our lives.
Two thousand years ago God came unobtrusively into the world in the form of a newborn infant. He grew into a man who lived an unobtrusive life and died at the age of thirty-three a lonely and virtually un-mourned death. But in his quiet way he accomplished what no other heralded leader ever could – he saved us from death and he redeemed this life of ours. During this Christmas season, in between the joyous celebrations, take a moment to sit still, to listen and to pray for the quiet presence of God in your life. And then, listen for that soft gentle whisper that says – God has come among us, Christ the Lord is born. Amen.