Who are we?

Christmas Eve - December 24, 2020
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Who are we?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tonight, is not a birthday celebration for Jesus.  For one thing, as the text reminds us, shepherds would not be sleeping in the fields in the middle of winter.  While Luke doesn’t give us a date, he give us a clue that Jesus was probably born in the spring time.  So, tonight is not a big birthday party. 

Tonight is not about family gatherings.  Out of love and safety, most of these special gatherings have been canceled this year.  If Christmas was about family gatherings, then Christmas would need not be happening…yet here we are…worshipping the newborn king just as we have for hundreds of years.  

Tonight is not about reading your favorite Christmas story  written by people like Charles Dickens or Dr. Seuss.  Christmas involves none of these things society deems a necessity to happen on Christmas.  Tonight, Christmas, is about remembering that God is present in our world.  Tonight is about remembering the time when God

  • the great creator of heaven and earth; 
  • who formed the earth out of nothing; 
  • who took this formless marble floating in space and made something out of nothing; 
  • the same God who delivered the people out of slavery in Egypt; 
  • who spoke to Abraham and Sarah who even though they had no children of their own promised them that God would build a great nation from their offspring; 
  • who spoke to Job in the whirlwind, 
  • who inspired people like Ester to speak up and save God’s people from tyranny; 
  • who promised King David that from his line would forever include great leaders for the people of God
  • tonight is about remember that time when our amazing God was born in the city of Bethlehem, in a cave, placed in a stone feeding trough, and had shepherds come and worship him.

It is a night that needs little fan fair; pomp and circumstance.   For our Lord had very little.  Jesus was born at a time when the world considered his life to be of little to be of no consequence. Born at a time when Augustus was known as savior of the world.  Born in a city known as the home of a deceased and defunct monarch.  Born to a family, even though Joseph shared in King David’s legacy, lacked any of David’s wealth or stature.  Born in a town where the population was no more than 300 people.  It was small and run down that held little to no significance to Rome.  It was not in a particular strategic section of the empire.  Bethlehem was a forgotten place.  The only reason Mary and Joseph are traveling to this place is because Augustus, the great savior of world, wants to find a way to tax people like Mary and Joseph.  This census was a way to count the people and then force them to pay more in taxes to Rome, to support an Empire that cared only about world domination. 

We read this story with rose colored glasses.  We hear the romantic side of our Lord’s birth.  Seriously, I am surprised Hallmark hasn’t tried to make a movie out the birth of Jesus.  This story, the story we heard read here tonight, especially during this year, has the ability to do two things: Make us long for what we use to have or it can help us refocus on the new future that God wants us to move towards.  Nostalgia has a way of creeping in and stealing the power away from this crazy  story.  

Whenever I stand and read this gospel lesson or hear it, I always think about those childhood Christmases.  I think about all those Christmas pageants I was in as a kid.  I think about that time I played Joseph or that time I was the narrator.  I think about those Christmas Eve’s spent as an acolyte at my Dad’s church, with my cousins, aunts and uncles, my grandmother in the pews that evening.  I think about everyone coming back to our house for dinner after church.  I miss those simple days.  I miss that feeling of stability and excitement.  And in 2020, stability and excitement are in short supply.  

Looking around on Social media today, the general consensus is that Christmas is a complete wash.  Nostalgia seems to be winning. All those normal traditions have been put on hold.  Family gatherings canceled or drastically scaled back.  Video calls will replace in-person visits on Christmas Day.  Tonight feels like a complete and utter failure.  We are tailspinning into an ocean of complete despair and the only way to pull ourselves out of this death dive is to dive deep into the story of our Lord’s Birth. 

So, I want you to imagine yourself as either Mary or Joseph.  I want you to picture what it must have felt like for the holy family to leave their home in Nazareth, travel over three days on the back of a donkey, all the while having a very pregnant spouse.  You go to Bethlehem knowing its reputation.  You go there knowing full well that there might not be a place for you to stay.  Remember, Bethlehem is where Joseph is from.  This is his family.  His friends.  He probably left Bethlehem to find better work.  He returns home with a woman who is pregnant and was found to be with child before they could be married.  You know, I have to wonder if all those rooms in Bethlehem were actually full.  

When Thomas and Isaiah were born, we had a plan, and expectation of what it would be like.  Because of the amazing medical team at Jefferson Hospital, from the doctors, nurses, tech, Cooks, maintenance staff and house cleaning crews, they made the experience even better than we could have imagined.  One month before Diane was due with Isaiah, we decided to skip a synod con-ed event because we didn’t want to travel that close to Diane’s due date.  Yet we live in a time when hospitals are within a reasonable driving distance, where medical staffs are well trained, and where giving birth has relatively low risk because of the entire medical team’s training.  

Now, put yourself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph.  Forced to leave their home and family in Nazareth to go to the middle of nowhere while being nine months pregnant.  Mary’s whole birthing experience, her life up this point could be classified in today’s 2020 terms as an utter failure.  Yet, it was a night where God fulfilled the prophecy of Haggai - “I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.”  God shook the heavens, the earth, and the sea on the night of our Lord’s birth.  God forever changed the world on that night, God forever changed a town forgotten by time.  God shook the world, an empire, a town, in need of a good shaking.  Rome was trying to replace the need for God.  Rome was trying to rewrite reality where they were the mediators of peace and their leader, Augustus was the savior of the world. Yet, God shook the world out of its complacency.  God re-righted things that night in Bethlehem.  For our Lord was not born in a palace as Augustus was.  He was not born to a wealthy family.  He was not born in power or privilege.  He was born in a town filled the most despised of all people — Mary and Joseph.  

“Nobody notices or understands what God performs in the stable…Oh, what a dark night it must have been over Bethlehem and they did not see such a light! Yet God, in this moment, reminds us that he pays no attention at all to what the world is or has or can do, and on the other hand the world proves that it knows nothing at all of, and pays no attention to, what God is or has or does. …Christ puts to shame the world and indicates that all of its doing, knowledge, and being are contemptible to us, that its greatest wisdom is in reality foolishness, that its best performance is wrongdoing, and that its greatest good is evil.”  The birth of Christ, by the world's standards, by 2020 standards, would be an utter failure.  Yet, God shows the world what God can do with utter failures.  But notice that God places angels in the sky, awakens shepherds sleeping in the fields and tells them that an utter failure has taken place and they are welcome to go and see it for themselves—only it is not a utter failure; it is good news for all people.  God sent angels to proclaim a wondrous and most splendid surprise—the word of God has been made flesh and they: poor, despised, and outcast shepherds are invited to see this thing which has taken place.   

The angels sing of God’s new and wondrous idea—The idea of Emmanuel—God with us.  They sing of peace coming down to the earth.  They tell the shepherds that they need to only go into town, find the holy family and they themselves can hold God’s gift of peace in the palm of their hands.  And on this most holy of nights, in the midst of another year deemed by the world as an utter failure, the angels sing to us once again - they proclaim the good news that the peace we long to feel, the peace we long to experience, the peace that has evaded us all year is within our reach—it is within our grasp.  For centuries, the world has never been able to experience or offer such a gift as God gave to us many years ago in the most unlikely of places; A cave, a stone feeding trough, a baby wrapped in scraps of cloth.  At the time, I am sure Mary and Joseph could not have envision that in a similar place, many years later, our Lord would emerge from a cave after laying a stone bed and wrapped in burial cloths—completing God’s plan of Salvation for God’s people.  

Our Lord’s birth is a reminder of what is to come and so we meet our Lord at the stable tonight.  We hold a vigil of sorts with a joyful spirit in hearts, but we also hold the reality of what awaits our Lord in the future.  We gather on this night and remember that with God, there is no such thing as utter failure.  That with God, nothing is impossible. We gather on this night forever reminded that the message the angels proclaimed to shepherds, remains true today - (END) that peace has come down from heaven to the earth and we, as followers of Christ, each have the chance to hold God’s most precious gift of peace in the palm of our hands.    

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

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