I really like the Christmas song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” especially the version sung by James Taylor and Natalie Cole. It is not a Christmas carol. If you don’t know it, it’s a flirtatious duet between a man and a woman, as he tries to get her to prolong her visit at his place. There’s been some controversy around the song’s lyrics in recent years, and I understand the concern, but I still like the song. What I like about it isn’t the tongue-in-cheek romance. It’s the contrast between the world outside and the world inside.
“Baby, it’s cold outside,” the male singer croons, and then he goes on to describe the terrible weather: “It’s bad out there, no cabs out there, you’ll freeze out there, it’s up to your knees out there! Your hands are like ice, you’ll catch pneumonia and die! Look at that storm, never such a blizzard before!”
The female singer is less concerned about the weather and more concerned about the attitudes of other people. They can make the social climate pretty frosty if she stays. There are gossipy neighbors. She has a sister who’s suspicious and an aunt whose mind is vicious. And she knows how the rest of the family will react: her mother will worry, her brother will be waiting at the door, and her father will be pacing the floor.
On the other hand, there’s this nice, warm, cozy room. There’s a roaring fireplace, and music, and…refreshments. There’s someone who is delighted that she’s there. The contrast between the world outside and the world inside could hardly be greater.
Although this song is obviously no Christmas carol, it does seem to be a good metaphor for the world we live in. The world can be a pretty cold place these days. It can be a dark place. It can be an unwelcoming place. We know about cold bureaucracies. We hear the stories of people who can’t see a way forward through poverty, homelessness, or illness. We hear the stories of people who are made to feel unwelcome because of how they speak or look, where they’re from, what they believe, or whom they love.
We’ve felt the sting of unkind comments ourselves. We’ve shivered when given the cold shoulder. We’ve encountered our own gossipy neighbors, suspicious sisters, and vicious aunts. We’ve faced times of illness or discouragement and grief when each day feels like we’re slogging through snow up to our knees.
Even if we’re fortunate enough to have escaped the world’s worst storms ourselves, we are still affected by what we see and hear in the news. Wars and rumors of war, political opponents at each other’s throats, financial uncertainty—these grasp at our hearts with icy fingers and bombard our ears with the howling winds of bad news. The world can feel dangerous enough that we may be the ones who are fearful for the well-being of our loved ones. We ourselves may be the suspicious sisters, watchful brothers, pacing fathers, and worried mothers.
Oh, for a cozy room like the one James Taylor sings about! Oh, for a place where we can feel safe, and welcome, and loved!
Two thousand years ago, I imagine that the people were feeling much the same way. They, too, were immersed in political and religious division. There were foreigners who generated suspicion because they were unfamiliar in their thinking and speaking. There were people who were poor and didn’t see any honest way out of their poverty. There were people who wondered what kind of future their children and grandchildren might have—people like Mary and Joseph, perhaps. There were people who were in and people who were out, people in power and people without power, people with a voice and people whose voices went unheard—people like the shepherds who were looked down on because of stereotypes about people like them. The world was a very cold place then, too. What might they have given for a place where they could have felt safe, and welcome, and loved?
There was such a place among them that night in Bethlehem. It wasn’t a cozy room, warmed by a roaring fire and full of comfy furniture. It was a stable, warmed by the bodies of animals, and furnished with piles of hay. But inside, it offered what the world outside could not. It offered a newborn baby, who came to offer the welcome and security and love we seek. It offered a baby whose entire life would be an invitation to come in, and stay.
We are invited to come in to the stable, where we can meet Emmanuel, God with Us, knowing that because of this night, we can always live in the warmth of God’s embrace. We are invited to come in and kneel before the manger, where the Prince of Peace lies, knowing that in the midst of a tumultuous world, we can find rest for our souls in his presence. We are invited to come in and pour out our heart to the Wonderful Counselor, knowing that whoever we are and whatever we’ve done, Jesus loves us. We are invited to come in and join all the others who have gathered in this place, for the baby who is nestled in his mother’s arms is the Savior of the entire world, no matter what your station in life is. Come in to greet the one who will offer you shelter from the cold world outside.
If you are longing for that stable, and wishing that you could follow along behind the shepherds as they make their way there, remember Jesus’ promise to be with us always. Jesus may have moved out of the stable, but he has moved into our hearts. The warmth, the light, the welcome, and the love of the stable—they are still with us. They still surround us. They are in us. The Word who became flesh and lived among us lives among us still. Nothing—neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, certainly not time or geography—will be able to separate us from the love that came down at Christmas in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In a few moments we’ll light candles and sing “Silent Night” together–a song of quiet praise for the One who invites us to come in. “Silent Night” is about as different from the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as you can get. But in some ways, their message is the same. There is a world outside that can be cold and challenging. But we are invited to come in—come into the pres. of Emmanuel, who offers us warmth, welcome, and love. Amen.
~~Pastor Carol Williams-Young
Hear now the story of our Savior’s birth: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “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. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.