I attended a Christmas Eve service this year where a rabbi read this passage in Hebrew and where many of his congregants were in this Christian congregation. The pastor preached a sermon that announced in no uncertain terms that the birth of Jesus was the announcement of God's love for everyone. At an earlier service, a Muslim Imam had read this same text in Arabic, and the pastor had made it plain that the birth of Jesus was for everyone. By this he by no means meant that the rabbi and the Imam would have to convert to "belief in Jesus" to be included in this radical claim of universal love. Not at all! The birth of Jesus made it clear that such divisions had ended forever, and anyone who persisted in such divisions did not fully understand what the birth meant for the whole world. To top off this glorious evening's worship I ran into a Jewish friend (from New York!), a long-time teacher of preaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who was visiting her daughter and son-in-law in a much warmer place than the Big City. Her surprising presence in that Christian place made the promise of Isaiah and Matthew all the clearer to me. Luke put it well. "I bring you news of great joy that shall be for all people," he said. Not for some. For all.
"Stand up and shine, for your light has come," sings Isaiah. And those to whom he is singing exclude none. "The glory of YHWH has risen above you," you gays and straights, you Muslims and Hindus and Jews and Sikhs, you liberals and conservatives and libertarians, you "nones" and nuns. All of you. All of us. God is with us, all of us.