As with every day of the Christmas readings, today’s are filled with new beginnings, fresh starts, and new births.
Today the city of Bethel is born. Jacob, in his vivid dream, awakes and declares “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” He rose and took the stone he had used as a pillow and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on it. He was honoring this place, and named it Bethel, or Beth-El, which means the city of God.
What was cause for such an act? It turns out Jacob’s first vision was a similar promise that had been made to his grandfather – a double promise of land and progeny. “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” God also declares that “I am with you.” This promise of presence is what makes it a Christmas reading as well, a time when God-with-us declares this same promise, but in the form of a tiny babe in a manger.
We follow a God who breaks all the rules. This didn’t start with Jesus. Back up to Jacob. Remember the rules? Land and blessing passes from eldest son to eldest son. Jacob was not the eldest, and yet God chose to use him in profound ways.
God has never followed human constructs, but breaks down barriers. God chooses differently, preferring to side with the outsider, the outcast, the lowly.
This extends to our Christmas narrative. Did Mary and Joseph deserve to be the parents of the Messiah? Were they royalty? Shining moral examples? No. And Jesus’ twelve disciples…did they deserve being chosen? No. Do we? No. And yet Jesus the Messiah came to that time and place, and even to this time and place, and chooses us. Are we worthy? No.
But God did it anyway.
God comes in unexpected ways, and breaks down our rules and standards along the way, instead preferring the way of grace and goodwill to those in whom God’s glory may shine best. Today it is Jacob. Tomorrow it might be you.