Christmas Eve 2002
December 24, 2002
The Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
Sermon: "Christmas Eve 2002"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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!"
Christmas Eve 2002
Tuesday - December 24, 2002
On a cold night two thousand years ago, a miracle happened in the little town of Bethlehem. We say these words every year. We gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We light candles and we sing songs. We smile warmly and greet each other with Merry Christmas. We share gifts and we eat fattening foods. After all what is a celebration without fattening foods?
Now, I don't want to belittle the celebratory nature of the season. However, I do wonder sometimes if we truly grasp what happened for us on this night. Do we truly understand the depth of what God gave us? If we look closely at the story we might see more clearly what God has offered to us.
Jesus is born of Mary betrothed to Joseph. They are simple folk. Jesus was not born in any spectacular way. In fact, he was born in the regular way, of a woman with labor pains and all. Joseph and Mary were both probably scared to death. In wonder and awe at the new life before them, but scared to death like all new parents. It is a pretty sure bet, that being in Bethlehem for this birth was not part of their plan. We all know they did not intend for Mary to be away from family and help when the baby was due. They had to go to Bethlehem. The census demanded they go. They were simply following the decree like everyone else. At the birth of their child we know they experienced great joy and wonder. Like all new parents they were also probably scared to death.
The shepherds, like Mary and Joseph, are simple folk. They are also about their own business, taking care of their sheep at night. They find out about the birth in a more unusual way. An angel comes to them and shares the news about the birth of Christ. No sooner does the angel share the news than an entire angel chorus joins in. It is as if creation itself can not be held back from spreading the news. Unlike Mary and Joseph in the stable they have an incredible moment of revelation. They follow the instructions and go and see the baby born in the stable. They go to see the glory of God in this little child. Upon finding the child they too experience great joy and wonder.
In this account of Christ's birth we just might find a pattern for ourselves. I realize we can not all be Joseph and Mary or a bunch of shepherds. Notice that God came to them in the midst of their everyday lives. They were doing what normal people do in their position and in their occupation. If God came to them in this manner how will God come to us? Will God come to us in a similar way? I believe the answer is yes. Now, we don't know exactly how God will come to us. But we can be sure God will come. God will come so that we too might recognize the presence of Christ among us, Emmanuel. When we recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives there will be joy and wonder.
But how will we know when Jesus is present? When will it happen for us? How can we be certain? The answers to these questions are quite obvious. When we experience joy. For everyone it is different. When we feel at peace in ourselves.
However, we don't like these answers. We are busy people. We are also stubborn people. When we don't get our answers right away we tend to become apathetic. Welcome to the human condition. Business for many of us is our escape. When we don't understand something or we don't know what to look for in a situation we get busy doing something else. If we are busy we don't have to worry about it and we are just doing God's work anyway. So, when God wants me, God can just interrupt me in what I am doing. Idle hands may be the devil's workplace, but business creates deaf ears to hear and blind eyes to see the work of God in the world.
Add onto our business that we tend to be stubborn. I want it my way God and I want it now. My favorite story is the one about the man in the flood who was determined God would save him miraculously. A truck, a boat, and a helicopter all come by his house as it is slowly being submerged by the torrent. As you know in the story he drowns and gets to heaven and wants to know why he wasn't saved miraculously. God's answer in the joke is great. I sent a truck, a boat and a helicopter what more did you want? To go along with that story my favorite prayer is, "Dear God, Please give me patience and give it to me right now." I have come to believe that the manner in which Jesus makes himself known to us is directly correlated to the level of stubbornness we have in our body. The higher the level of stubbornness the larger the event required to get our attention. So. Go ahead and hang onto stubbornness Paul didn't like being blinded on the road to Damascus and I doubt we will like what God will do to get our attention.
Finally, with all our business and our stubbornness it gets hard to find Jesus in our daily lives. We end up with a feeling of apathy. God, are you really out here? Do you really exist? I am so tired and I really would like a sign that you are there. Just a little one, maybe. Oh well, I'll talk to you next week.
I don't know about you, but our secular world makes these traits even more predominant at Christmas. We go into hyperoverdrive, if that is a gear, and move around like whirling dervishes to get everything ready for Christmas. We have to decorate, buy the presents, wrap the presents, mail the cards, fix the goodies, practice the songs, light the candles, trim the tree, plan with the relatives, and where is Jesus in all this activity?
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Be still. Sure, go about our daily tasks, but wait and listen. Look for God in the unexpected and not the overactive. Jesus was born in a stable with no fanfare. His mother was a young girl and not a worldly princess. His father was a carpenter and not a king. No hustle, no bustle. Just life. Instead of being stubborn, be expectant. Over and over again, God comes to us. Sometimes it is flashy. An angel chorus in the dead of night would certainly get my attention. Many times it is quiet. God came to Joseph in a dream. Jesus came of a humble birth in a small town and was laid in a manger. Finally, instead of becoming apathetic because God isn't coming in big ways, pay more attention to the little things in life.
So to really get into the true spirit of Christmas bask in warm shine on the face. Taste the coolness of a snowflake on the tongue. Enjoy the cry of a newborn child. Delight in the hug of someone who cares for you. Feel the breath of God move in and out as breath fills the lungs. Look for Christ in the people of the world around us. See the wonder of the world as if we children again. Finally, expect to be surprised by God at any moment of any given day in any possible way. Jesus is among us. Christ is here present. Jesus has a habit of coming to us in unexpected ways. No matter how those ways occur, they are always followed by a sense of wonder, incredible joy and the feeling of peace. Jesus came in the night in a little stable in the small town of Bethlehem. From that humble beginning Jesus saved all of creation. In what way might Jesus come to us, only God knows. Tonight, we are reminded of the wonder, the joy, and the inescapable truth that Jesus comes to us in ways unimagined. I pray we might have a wondrous, joyful and peaceful Christmas season.