Hard to drive too. Even when we’re covered and dry in the car, the roads are slick, the visibility is cut way down. The wipers squeak irritatingly across the windshield, and we can’t even hear our own thoughts with the pounding of the driving rain all around. “What if I get stranded, what if I start to slide?” we worry in the driving rain. Then you have to get out when you get to wherever you’re going, and splash through the parking lot or down a sidewalk, risking a slip or a drop. Who wants to drive in the driving rain?
I wonder if it was raining the night Jesus was born? Maybe that’s why there was no room anywhere, everyone crammed in the inns. Everyone in, except out in the stable. I wonder if the stable animals were wet, with that wet smell of animal smell? I wonder if the shepherds had to duck for shelter from the driving rain while they watched their sheep. We know it was a dry climate, but we also know that everything was different that night. Maybe it was driving rain…
The rain has a way of getting us down. Cloudy and cold. A good description of this whole season in many ways. Even in our parties and songs and gifts and attempts at good cheer. The visibility is pretty low. We have no idea how things will turn out in 2011. The roads are slick. And the wipers of the raindrops—you know, all those people who just force the smile and demand positive thinking only—are like an irritating windshield wiper helping for a moment indeed, but almost in vain, as the huge drops come back as soon as the squeaking stops. We duck our heads and look down at our wet-shoes-getting-wetter in the puddles of 2010. And it’s tempting to just “go back in”—into ourselves, into our circles, into our gated and locked and safe little worlds…because it’s hard to see in the driving rain.
But if it was raining the night Mary and Joseph were sent out to the stable, the rain surely didn’t stop the Child from being born. It didn’t stop the angels from singing, even if their wings were soaked, it didn’t stop the shepherds from hearing and going, even if their feet were freezing and their cloaks were heavy.
When it rains, you have to squint, you have to work to see. And when you have to work you become stronger. In the rain, your senses on high alert so you don’t slip or slide. We hang onto our bags extra tight, we get off the phone and pay attention to the road, we think ahead and wear extra layers.
We’ll never know if the first Christmas came in the rain, but we know that Christmas 2010 comes in the rain. Even if it stopped literally raining this week, the rain keeps falling, if we’re honest. Even as we find peace in this place for a moment, the conflicts pour on around us. Many homes are unsafe, many spouses are angry, many children are afraid. Innocent blood washes down the gutters of our world, even this holy night. Some of our own members sit in lonely beds, wondering if they’ll live to see another Christmas on this earth. Many families have wrung out the last of their savings on this “joyous” occasion, and are wondering how they’ll get through then next month. The road is slippery, as the storms rage on, and it’s hard to see in the driving rain.
But the hearers and the sharers of God’s unstoppable Good News are not deterred by their impaired sight in the driving rain. We sing on, even if we can’t see so well, even if our wings are soaked. We strain our ears to hear through all the noise, all the drip-drops of false advertising and merchandising and empty promises of “real happiness.” “No,” we confess, “Those things won’t weather the storm.”
So we trudge, having heard, through the muck and the mire, like the shepherds, from one strange, soppy spot to another: from the cold, dark valley, to the unseemly feeding trough of an ox. Our garments, heavy with storm water and smelly with animal smell. This has not been an easy road to follow. We can barely find the stable, and can hardly believe what we’ve just heard, but we still go. And here we are in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, its meaning in Hebrew. To think that we would find ourselves in this damp stable, leaks in the roof, spots on the floor…
[pause] And still it is beautiful. Still there is joy. Still the flicker of a light shines in the darkness. For wrapped in scratchy bands, held close to his mother’s breast, is a child. A new born child peaks through the pain!
The cry of new birth, the glimpse of hope. For from this child comes—not armed forces or smooth, political persuasions—but the redemption of our fallen world, the healing of our selfish hearts, the peace of God. From this little child, that we inch closer to see in a dripping stable, squinting through the darkness of our lives, comes the light of life. Who calms every storm, who heals every ill, who releases every sin-locked captive, who breaths every peace, and grants every grace. [pause]
And when the storms finally pass and the sun finally stretches out across the valley to warm the earth and dry our tears, we will see – maybe not even in this life, but – we will see a glorious new growth. The light green shoots across the fertile ground, the colorful blossoms, the rivers that flow, the trees that wave in the wind, the jagged edges smoothed, the friend and foe alike, gathered for stew over a common fire, weapons melted, condolences offered, laughter and wine, song and dance. We shall see that the angel chorus is true, “Peace upon the earth, good will to all!”
It’s hard to see in the driving rain, but the storms will pass, Christ has come. AMEN.