On a cold December night we will gather again in the warmth of our church to hear told the story of Jesus’ birth. We will listen to the story read from Luke’s gospel, a familiar story we’ve heard before of that first Christmas when the baby Jesus was welcomed by humble shepherds, who, following the instructions of angelic messengers, went to a stable in Bethlehem to be greeted by Mary, Joseph and the newborn child.

Christmases past will come to mind with memories of Sunday School pageants, of costumed children standing reverently at the manger, playing the part of Mary and Joseph greeting shepherds and awaiting exotic magi bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I will listen again to a favorite Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors and hear King Kasper show Amahl his box of magic stones, beads and licorice.

The birth of baby Jesus, like the birth of any child, brings a joy spilling in every direction; the birth of a child speaks of a welcomed dependence inspiring from us a glad response.

With lit candles in our hands we will sing “Silent Night,” transposed for the moment to that far away long ago night in Bethlehem. The evening will include a focus on this timeless truth: God’s promise to be present to each of us through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The simple nativity sitting outside the front door of our church and on the lawn of many neighbor’s homes speaks a wealth of spiritual insight; the artistic simplicity takes me to places where words seldom lead. Mother Mary with the infant Jesus in her arms invites a welcomed dependence calling for a response of care, of tenderness and of love. The glad response opens our eyes to the children in our community dependent upon a nurturing that satisfies the needs of each and every child. The glad response opens our eyes to the increasing number of homeless children arriving with parents at one of the many DuPage County PADS sites seeking a warm bed for the night. The glad response opens our eyes and ears to the cry of immigrant children forcibly separated from their parents. The glad response opens our eyes to Joseph a protector, who calls on us to join him in championing the needs of vulnerable children both near and far.

The nativity sitting at the front door to our church is also an evangelical moment, inviting the spiritually homeless into a relationship with Jesus, a relationship begun with those simple words Jesus issued to his first disciples: “Come, follow me.” As we pause and greet the angels, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus outside the door to our church, sing softly a favorite hymn “Joy to the World.” In the cradle we will once again hear Jesus’ invitation to “Come follow.” The author of the hymn, Isaac Watts, reminds us of this baby in the manger: “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love, and wonders of his love, and wonders, wonders of his love.”

“Come, follow me” is Jesus’ call to each of us. Our glad response will be renewed commitment to works of justice, mercy and love.