There’s a commercial on TV, for Motel 6. You may have seen it. The narrator talks about how your life will change for the better if you stay at Motel 6. They have cheap prices, clean rooms, and even free Wi-Fi. And then, comes the line that’s meant to grab you: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
I remember as a teenager when I left the house my mother would say to me in a casual voice: “We’ll leave the light on for you.” It was the same when I was in college, home for Christmas, and when she had a more valid reason to worry about my nightly escapades. Again she would say: “We’ll leave the light on for you.” I never knew what those words meant then. “No need for a light left on for me.” But as an adult, there’s a kind of friendly sense of welcome in those words, as though someone who cares about me will be up waiting for me, no matter when I arrive. Maybe in the morning. Maybe in the afternoon. Maybe in the middle of the night. “We’ll leave a light on for you!”
This the theology of Christmas: “We’ll leave a light on for you.” In our beautiful crèche in our Church of St. Francis of Assisi there’s a light on. There was always a light on in the stable, from that first night until now. The rest of Bethlehem is pitch black. The inn is closed for the night. But, there’s a light left on in the stable. Now, if I were Joseph – having traveled all the way to Bethlehem from Nazareth with my pregnant wife – I think I would want to switch off that light and get a little sleep. And if I were Mary – having made the same journey, then delivered a baby – I think as soon as that little one was nursed and back asleep, I’d want the light out just to rest for a short while. But no, the light stays on in the stable. All night long it stays on – then and now, as if to say, “We’ve left the light on for you!”
And that light drew a strange group of people that first Christmas night. Shepherds. Shepherds were not very highly regarded in that society. They were the most marginal of people, shunned by the religious authorities as being pagan. They were like the cowboys of the early American west. They make for great characters in movies. There are wise men from the east, probably from around Persia, which is very strange since Persia was a great historic enemy of the Jews. Even today, Persia – which is modern day Iran – is believed to sponsor groups like Hezbollah and Hamas in their fight against Israel. Pick your least favorite members of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The light was left on for them too.
Not the cast of characters we might expect for the birth of the savior of the world! But, there they are. Ordinary. Sinful. Full of doubt. Fearful. Hurting. Confused. People just like you, like me! And how did they get there to the place where Christ was? Someone left a light on for them!
Ah! The mystery of Christmas! Often there is the temptation to turn Christmas backwards. We see it as a time when shepherds and wise men and people like us go searching for someone who is the savior of the world! That’s not it at all! Christmas is not a time when people go looking for God! Christmas is a time when God comes looking for people! Looking for people like you, like me, people who need a savior in their lives. People like you, like me – who’ve been hurt by life and need to be healed. People like you, like me. People who may have many more questions about God than they have answers. People like you – trying to raise kids and grandkids in a challenging world. People like you, like me – trying to live fully even as you face up to the realities of aging, and an economy that makes that process fearful. People like you, like me – who’ve lost loved ones, and need to find a way to go on. People like you, like me – who have sinned and need to be forgiven. People like you, like me – who, at one time or another, perhaps even now, have lost your way through life, and need to be found. People like you, like me – who worry about the violence that is erupting everywhere, saddened by the almost daily killing of our young people. And the raising of a generation of Muslim teenagers willing to commit suicide to defend their belief.
That’s why the light in the stable is always left. Just as God did long ago with the likes of Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men, God once again is out in the world, searching for people who need that loving force in their lives. God has left the light on for you.
Did you know that Catholic sisters run an orphanage in Baghdad? One of the sisters tells about the time she was sharing the Christmas story with the children. She asked them each to draw a picture of the scene. All of the pictures were wonderful! But, one in particular caught her attention. It was drawn by a little girl named Hala. And what made Hala’s drawing distinctive was that there was not one, but two babies lying in the manger. “Hala, what a wonderful picture!” said the sister. “But who is the other baby in the manger with the baby Jesus?” Hala looked up with a lovely expression on her face. “The other baby is Hala,” she said and smiled. “Oh? How is it that you added yourself to the manger scene?” The sister asked. “When I was drawing the picture of the baby Jesus,” Hala replied, “Jesus looked at me and said, ‘Hala, where is your family?’ I said to Jesus, ‘I have no family.’ Then Jesus said to me, ‘Hala, where is your home?’ And I said to Jesus, ‘I have no home.’ And then Jesus said to me, ‘Hala, you can come and be in my family and live in my home.’”
Christmas! God is out in the world looking for children like Hala, and all the other children ground up by war and poverty and disease and abuse. God is out in the world today looking for mothers like Mary, and like the mothers and grandmothers who may be reading this. God is out in the world today looking for fathers like Joseph, and like the fathers and grandfathers who may be reading this. God is out in the world today, looking for working people like the shepherds in the fields, and searching for smart people like the magi from Wall Street and Broadway, and NYU and Columbia. God is loose in the world today. And, God is seeking out and inviting to Christ those who hurt, those who doubt, those who need a friend.
Someone has left a light on! And, it tells us God is here in our world today, searching for someone to love! I wonder, could it be you? I think the only way you can know if you’re the one God is searching is if you’re feeling some tug on your heart right now that seems to be pulling you to Jesus – pulling you to become part of Jesus’ amazing family of shepherds, wise men, and even little Arab orphans named Hala – pulling you to begin anew following Jesus’ way of life.
In an America and in a church where belief is under pressure from every direction, I bring my deepest conviction that the ancient Christian message of God entering human history in Jesus of Nazareth is the truth, yesterday, today and tomorrow. I bring you the message that despite our sins, you can find that truth who is Jesus the Christ: “Wonder-counselor, God-hero, …Prince of peace.” Strengthened by this truth, we renew once again our hope for ourselves and for our world. Swords can be turned into plowshares, sadness can be turned into joy, sin can be vanquished by righteousness, and death will be overcome by resurrection.
“For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy,
Which will be to all people,
For unto you is born this day in the city of David,
A savior who is Christ the lord.”
The light remains left on for you and for me. David McBriar, O.F.M.