December 24, 2006
The Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
Sermon: "Christmas 2006"
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.
We are gathered here this evening inside this beautiful church. Look at all the decorations, candles, flowers. We all look so good; neatly dressed, hair combed, smiling and laughing. We look so prepared to welcome the King of kings. We look ready. If Jesus walked in the door right now, we look as if we spent months preparing ourselves.
Yet, I don't know about you but this Christmas has been just a little rushed. We celebrated the last Sunday of Advent just 12 hours ago. The church wasn't decorated. The colors were purple instead of white. No greenery was hung. No candles were present. To be honest this afternoon was a bit rushed getting everything ready.
What would have happened if we hadn't gotten everything done? Would Christmas have waited? No! Christmas would not have waited.
Look at the Gospel reading tonight. Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem. They have left home and family for a census of the people. They arrive in Bethlehem and Mary is in labor. We can imagine what things are like? Mary is having contractions. Joseph is frantically looking for a room and there is none. You and I both know that Mary wanted to have the baby with her mother and friends there to help her. You and I both know that Joseph wanted Mary's mother and her friends there to help her. They weren't ready. They had no place to stay. They were tired from their journey and probably hungry as well. Christmas wouldn't wait. The birth of Jesus came at an unexpected time, in an unexpected place for them, with no help from family, and no proper preparations for the birth of a child. There was no crib. There were no baby linens or clothes. There was simply Mary and Joseph in a stable, simple people expecting a child in unexpected circumstances. Christmas is coming.
Yes, Christmas did come. Jesus was born in that stable and placed in a manger, a food trough for the animals. He was not wrapped in prepared clothes for a baby. The King of kings was not dressed in satin or fine linen. He was not placed in an ornately made cradle. He had no kings and queens or family to welcome him. The world might not have even known of his entry into it.
However, the angels of heaven could not contain their joy. The angels burst into the world to a group of shepherds. They sing gloriously of the birth of Jesus. The shepherds are not exactly kings or queens, would you say? The angels tell the glorious news to those who will listen and go and wonder. The shepherds weren't ready for this news. They weren't ready for Christmas. They had no gifts to bring. They wore no fine clothes. They picked up their belongings and went to the stable. Christmas came and they were not ready.
Do we see a pattern here? Joseph and Mary were not ready. Christmas carne. The shepherds were not ready. Christmas carne. The rest of the world did not know or understand. Christmas carne. Christmas carne because the birth of Jesus Christ into this world is not about our timing or our agenda. It is about God. God chose the moment to enter into this world. God chose the moment not to bewilder us or scare us or prove anything to us. God chose this moment for us to save us.
You see, we could not save ourselves. As hard as we try, as much as we toil to be perfect before God, we just can't. Our fallen humanity just gets in the way. Our wants and our desires cause us to do things we know we shouldn't do. We don't respond to the hurts in the world around us appropriately. In our very rich world, there are still people who are hungry. There are still people who are naked. There are still people without shelter. There are still babies being born in strange, unknown places. And yet, there is hope.
There is hope because 2000 years ago in a strange place, out of the way, a single child was born. In his birth, God teaches us the depth of love. For in the life and example of this holy child we will learn of the bounty of God's grace.
This child, Jesus of Nazareth is our hope. He comes and he brings sight to the blind. The physically blind see the world, and the spiritually blind begin to see the glory of God. They see the beauty in God's creation and in one another. As they see one another anew, they reach out to care for them, touch them, and love them. Jesus helps the deaf to hear. The physically deaf hear the beauty of sound in the world. They hear birds and laughter and a baby's giggle. The spiritually deaf can now hear the cries of the world around them. They hear those who are crying in hurt and pain and they respond. They help those who cannot hear to open their ears to the wonder of God and the sorrow of our own sisters and brothers. He heals the lame. The physically lame can now walk out into God's creation, he spiritually lame walk boldly into a world that might not recognize the power and love f the living God. They walk into dark places and share the light of Christ. They exhibit the love God has for them by walking to others and helping them to stand when they are weak. Finally, Jesus helps the mute to speak. When their mouths are opened they sing and shout for joy of the glory of God, so that, all may hear the good news. They proclaim the existence of a loving God who has come to earth in our form, flesh and blood, to redeem us because we can't redeem ourselves.
We are here this night because the eyes of the blind were opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame were able to leap like the deer, and the tongues of the speechless were loosed to proclaim the glory of God. Christmas came. God sent Jesus for our sake and that, my dear brothers and sisters, is the good news of this most holy night.
If the decorations were not ready, if the candles had not been lit, if the flowers had not arrived, if our homes were not prepared, Christmas would still come. Christmas would be here. Christmas would be here because God is here. Christmas would be here because Jesus was born in God's time. Christmas would be here because we are here. We are here as followers of Jesus Christ. We are here because we know God sent Jesus for us and we need Jesus in our lives.
You know, I was so busy this Advent that I did not see the first Christmas special, not one. But I invite us all to take the time to watch or read one story that really speaks to the wonder of this night. It is by that great children's and adult theologian, Dr. Seuss. I'd like to close by reading the end of the story. The Grinch has stolen all the goodies and the toys and the food from Whoville. With all the goodies, toys, and food gone he believes he can stop Christmas from coming. We find him in the story poised on top of Mount Crumpit:
"Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mount Crumpit,
He rode to the tiptop to dump it!
"Pooh-pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
"They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!
"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!
"Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
"The all the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!"
"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch,
"That I simply must hear!"
So he paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow...
But the sound wasn't sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn't be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!
He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, 'till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
And what happened then...?
Well...in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!" - 1
See, Christmas comes even when we are not ready. Jesus is God's gift to us, a gift of unimaginable love that fills our hearts and changes our lives. In that change, God becomes alive in us. We become open to see and to witness the wonders of God's world. With God's help, we are empowered to reach out to our brothers and sisters around us. And it all began in an unusual place, in unusual circumstances, a tiny stable, in a small town, with a young mother and father, and the birth of their son, Jesus the Christ. The Good News of God in Christ is born, Jesus our Savior. Merry Christmas.
1 - HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS by Dr Seuss