WHAT TIME IS IT?
If you were to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, you might wonder - where is the manger? A guide would direct you to several steps that lead to a grotto under the main altar of the church. There you would see a star on the floor and across from it a facsimile of a feeding trough (the manger).
The caves below the Christmas Lutheran Church (just up St. Mary’s Street from the church of the Nativity) reminds us that the Bethlehem of Jesus’ day is below us. It stretches your imagination!
What is it that catches our attention at Christmastide? Is it the shocking appearance of angels glowing in the night sky? Or is it the shepherds bravely running into Bethlehem to see if the angels had told them the truth? Or is it Mary – so meek and mild – who presents herself as the mother of mothers.
Thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, we have a representation of the birth narrative from Luke’s Gospel. It is a stable with straw and contented animals, Joseph holding a lantern (no electricity, yet), and Mary, with the baby Jesus. We will set up our manger scenes and be satisfied with the romantic picture we have taken from Luke’s Gospel.
But wait! Why at that specific time, in that specific region of the world, to that unknown, poor, illiterate house builder Joseph and his young, virginal fiancé, Mary? There is nothing in the biblical text that provides us with the answer. The best we can do is to turn to the angel’s message: “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.”
The angel’s message gives it away. Jesus was born at just the right time – a time when God could not contain himself but had to break into history for the sake of all humanity and creation itself. It was the right time, in the same way as it was when Noah and his family disembarked from the Ark and received the rainbow of God’s eternal promise. It was the right time, in the same way as it was when Moses stood before the burning bush and God declared that his name is “I am because I am.” It was the right time, in the same way as it was when God declared to David that his throne would last forever.
It was time for Jesus to inaugurate the New Age – the Time of the Church. This would introduce the nearness of the Kingdom of God and the movement of history toward the end of all time. This is the time in which we live. We celebrate Jesus’ birth. We admire and take some comfort in the manger scene below our tree or on the windowsill. Then we wait for Jesus’ return. That’s what time it is!
May you and your family enjoy this wonderful holiday time. Welcome Jesus into your home and your heart.
+Pastor Paul Koch
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600