And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Those beautiful words from St. John’s Gospel name the Incarnation of God on earth. They are among the loveliest and most powerful words in the New Testament. Very often, though, churches at Christmas choose other words to tell the Story. Christmas comes with choosing, whether to share the good news John’s way or Luke’s way. Last night we told it St. Luke’s way, with the story of Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem and landing beside the manger where Christ will rest.
Luke’s way is full of mud and muscle and struggle. John makes it all sound so easy. He knows it’s fundamentally God’s doing, and wants us to know that, too. So John avoids the mud and muscle and struggle. But we know the Story. So, as we hear John’s news of the Word becoming Flesh, we see again Joseph and Mary walking toward a reality they have no words for at all, a reality they can only really come to see in adoration.
Last night we sang, What child is this? I’m guessing in beginning, Joseph wondered, Whose child is this? But then love overcame his questions. We may want to tell him what we know. To say, “Joe, he’s the Son of God born of Mary.” But he’s also the earthly son of Joseph, an ordinary hopeful carpenter descended from the house of David, understandably wondering, What child is this? Is he anything like me? Will he know what it is to be ordinary?
Holy Scripture tells us the baby Jesus will come to know it all, will experience in time the fullness of our limitations and struggles, in order to redeem us. At Christmas the Child Jesus, like all children, comes to birth in full innocence, and doesn’t yet know who we are. Or what we’re capable of. Or even fully who he is. What he knows is right there beside him – in the stable: a mother and a father, the scent of hay, animals nearby, the noise of shepherds falling down to adore him. And as Mary and Joseph look on him, they see a child in need of their care and protection.
Tradition names Joseph the Guardian of the Incarnation. This tells you, God in Christ relied on the frailty of human hands to hold him, human love to guide and school him, human strength to shield him from harm.
As the Holy Family moves forward in time, Joseph and Mary will shoulder that holy burden. It’s they who will hold Jesus, they who will guide and school him, they who will do their best to shield him from harm. The Wise will soon warn them to leave Bethlehem in a hurry. And they’ll carry their child – God’s child, our child – toward safety. And in the wake of their departure, King Herod will massacre what remains of innocence in Judea.
Imagine, then, being Joseph: guarding such a fragile mystery. Not understanding it, only knowing your life is bound up with the life of this child. You don’t have to understand in order to love. So often our definitions and defenses and certainties get in the way.
Trust instead the longing you have, the weakness of your heart to go ahead and give yourself to Love.
This, this is Christ the king. This is your life in God’s life. You are guardians of the Incarnation. But where do you begin?
St. Francis of Assisi, we’re told, began preaching to the birds one day, sounding out the life of God in all creation. Tradition has it he was the first to create a manger scene. I’m guessing it happened like this: Francis preaching to the birds, and the birds not really getting what he was saying. Then the little friar saying to himself, I know what I’ll do. I’ll show them what I’m talking about. I’ll give them a gospel they can see and behold in simple adoration.
The children in our parish have done the same. Over the course of Advent, they’ve added the traditional figures to our manger scene. They laid straw in the manger awaiting the Holy Child. Sunday they brought an angel and Mary and Joseph to the stable. They did this so you could see. Could behold in simple adoration.
And tonight the Holy Child is come among them.
If you’ll notice the camels and the wise men are on their way, not yet there. As I noted yesterday morning, we have only two camels this year, and two are enough. Mr. Arthur Duncan accidentally injured the third, breaking off a leg. I still have the evidence here, and I’m holding on to it because I consider it a Christmas gift.
You see, while guarding the injured camel, Arthur did his best to repair it: an effort with Gorilla Glue, but in the end, no go. So, by way of consolation, Arthur said to me. You know, they will lay down for you. Camels will. It’s true. Arthur’s seen it. Camels come to their knees, too.
When Arthur said those words, I heard an echo of gospel wisdom from an old African-English translation of the Christmas story [retold by Lorenz Graham] that tells the Story this way,
The wise men and the king and the country people, they come to Bethlehem. [And] the star come low and stop . . . by the small house where the cattle sleep. [And] they find Joseph and Mary and the small small pican [ the small small baby] rolled up in country cloth. And the king brings gold for gift. And the wise bring fine oil. And the country people bring new rice. And they look on the God pican [on the God baby child] and everyman heart lay down. 
Where do you begin?
At Christmas you’re given the guardianship of God’s love on earth. And you begin as Joseph and Mary did, in purest adoration, your heart laid down before him. Work will come, as work does, and dark hours with it, and light enough to see your way to Love.
But today you begin in adoration.
 Everyman Heart Lay Down, Lorenz Graham, Boyd Mills Press, 1993.