Easter is always on a Sunday, being placed by the Western Christian tradition on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the Spring equinox. Basically a calculation of sun AND moon can put Easter on any Sunday between March 21 and April 25. But Christmas as a day determined by a solar calculation is seldom on a Sunday. Instead it is on the day that December 25th finds itself.
The narrative begs this timing. As Advent -- the season -- has turned our focus to the interplay of encroaching darkness and promising light we need for Jesus to be born within the very first turning of those longer days of winter.
It took a long time for Christians to get all these elements together. Exactly when was Quirinius Governor of Syria? How interesting that Luke recalls that Bethlehem is the family home of David the shepherd boy thus setting up a comparison with the failures of the city that David the King called home, Jerusalem. What could be meant by adding swaddling clothes to the set of signs? And what's with "lying in a manger?" Why are shepherds; dirty, poor, migrant-worker-like shepherds the first to hear the angels' Gloria?
Seems like all these features echo lowliness, humanity's lowliness. Seems like the same principle is at work in the Annunciation to Mary and her Magnificat sung in response. Lowliness and darkness are the origins of the Messiah, not Rome's palaces or even Jerusalem's temple.
Christmas is when it is because of what the light shining in the darkness means! Indeed, has always meant. God is at work reemphasizing His place in our lives not from the top down like a Caesar but from the bottom up, from the lowliness of a young mother, a manger and swaddling clothes, from within darkness to light.
You don't tell that story from the high noon of Summer's solstice or even the halfway point of Spring's or Fall's equinoxes. You tell it in the dark of a winter in a hemisphere that was ancient Israel's and is ours today. You tell it so that all the subversion that is the lowly being lifted, the proud being scattered, the mighty being cast down, the hungry being filled gets right something that needs righting!
You tell it now because there is still too much darkness in our lives. Darkness that is ours no matter our rank or privilege. Darkness that persists through every human's, every caesar's, every president's, every priest's, every parishioner's attempt to be rid of it.
Only the light of God, pointed and small can make its way with us and we call him Emmanuel. Can makes its way for us and He is Jesus. Can make its way in us just like it did in Mary. Can make its way through us because there is still too much darkness.
We'll miss grandeur of John's gospel this year. It has the language in a couple of sentences that it takes Luke three chapters to convey. It goes like this, "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:4-5 NRSV.)
Thanks be to God!