December 24, 2003
The Gospel: Luke 2:1-10
Sermon: "God is in the midst of us"
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!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
God is in the midst of us
Christmas Eve- December 24, 2003
I truly do love this time of the church year. The church services are beautiful. Houses are decorated with colors of red, gold and white. Christmas trees with twinkling lights can be seen through windows surrounded by garland. People are kinder to one another and there is a pervasive feeling of joyous expectation. There is a sense this night of calm as the words of the song Silent Night suggest.
If you are like me the last week to ten days have been anything but calm. There is always that last minute Christmas rush. The last few presents to buy and wrap. The list of endless items at work that need to be completed. Add on to it the unexpected inconveniences that seem to constantly appear. At times these inconveniences can dampen the joy and the peacefulness of the season.
For example, on Saturday I was thinking about this sermon and I went to my computer at home. When I cut on the computer there was a warning. The CPU fan is not working. We bought the computer last Christmas. The one year warranty expired on Tuesday. The computer will be fixed but I couldn't write my sermon in my little desk at home where I like to be. Since the warranty is still good the company is providing the part and a technician to replace it. However, the work can not be done until after Christmas. The computer can not be used. That was Saturday.
On Sunday, I step into my car to go to the church. I turn over the engine and every warning light in the car lights up. If I had been in a plane I would have punched the ejection button. With all of the activity of a family of four before the holidays we have had to juggle the schedule with one car. Add to that schedule unexpected emergencies in the community and everything gets confused and inconvenient. One can say this last week has not been calm and in fact it has been hectic and confusing. In fact, the question came to mind, "Where is God in all this confusion?"
As I pondered this question I found myself thinking of Joseph, Mary, some shepherds and a tiny baby in a feed trough. Mary is over eight months pregnant. Joseph and Mary are preparing for the birth of their first child. They know this child is different. Still, they have to take care of this baby when he arrives. Mary has the duties of the household of the day and Joseph has to work to bring home the money to pay the bills. As they are preparing for the arrival of their child, all of a sudden, they must travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a census. While they are gone Joseph can not work. There is no sick leave for a blue-collar carpenter. No work means no pay. How inconvenient this trip is at this time? Mary must ride on a donkey in her condition all the way over rough roads and rocks. It could not have been very comfortable for her. When they arrive in Bethlehem there is no room. Joseph has to take Mary to a stable in the back. Mary has her child in the stable and not a clean room. Instead of a bed, Mary is on straw and her newborn child is placed in a feed trough. The list of inconveniences is growing.
What about the shepherds? The shepherds are minding their own business taking care of the flocks. They receive a visit from a host of angels that scares the daylights out of them. They are told to go and look for the child. They are to leave their flock unattended and go and search for a child lying in a manger in the city. Now, I grant you if I had a host of angels come and tell me to go I would go. Yet, it must have been pretty inconvenient for them as well. As I have thought about the inconveniences in the lives of Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the shepherds on the first Christmas night, mine have seemed pretty insignificant.
However, we still have not answered the question, "Where is God in all this confusion?" I believe God is in the midst of all of the confusion. In fact, I believe the Good News of Christmas is that God is with us in all of this incredible confusion. The message of God to us at Christmas is, "In all of life I am with you; Emmanuel, God is with us."
Think about that night so long ago. Jesus was born of a young woman, not an earthly queen. His earthly father was a simple carpenter and not a king. The angels did not go to the Roman leaders or the leaders of the Jewish synagogue to announce the birth. The angels went to shepherds. Shepherds were not well respected. In fact they were deemed low on the social order, almost outcasts. Instead of the King of kings being born to the rich and powerful, Jesus is born amongst the normal, every day people. Jesus is born of a woman the same way we are all born.
The message of Christmas is that Jesus Christ, the Savior, was born for all people. The inconveniences of their day shadow the inconveniences of our lives. It is no coincidence that the birth of Christ was inconvenient for Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the shepherds. It is real life. God is in the midst of real life. When people are hungry, God is there. Where people are cold, God is there. Where people are hurting, God is there. God did not come for those who feel righteous and worthy. God came to the hurting, the lonely, the hungry, the naked and the cold. In the inconvenient birth of the Son, God tells each one of us we are his child. Through the birth, life and death of Jesus, God tells us, "I know what life is like and I will always be with you."
When we are hungry and thirsty, Jesus is with us. Jesus knew what it was like to be hungry and thirsty. When we are hurting, Jesus is with us. Jesus knew what it was like to be hurt in this world. When we are beside ourselves and we feel like there is no hope and no way out, Jesus is with us. Jesus shows us there is a way. He followed the will of God. He conquered sin and death. He gave us eternal hope. It all began on a cold night in a stable after an inconvenient journey.
God is with us. Jesus is here. The promise of Christmas is that Jesus will be with us always. No matter what happens in our lives. No matter what life throws in our path, Jesus is with us. When life is good we thank Jesus for the blessings. When life is inconvenient and hard we thank Jesus for his presence. In Christ we find all of our joy. In Christ we find all of our peace. In Christ we find all of our hope. With this joy, this peace and this hope, we thank God. With this joy, this peace, and this hope we can turn to one another and say with new meaning and understanding, Merry Christmas.