Christmas Eve 24 December 2015
(Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20)
“Looking for More!”
A person on the ELCA pastors’ Facebook page last week suggested that any pastor who mentions the Star Wars film this Christmas season in a sermon is officially a nerd. Well, I just did it! So let all the Nerds with their light sabers come after me!
Although I could probably preach this film with the theme of how the forces of Light awaken to a Darkened world, tempting as it is, I won’t reduce the Christmas story to a blockbuster film in this evening’s sermon. Too often, I think, we have done similar things to the Christmas story.
I think we’ve softened the edges. We’ve toned down the shrill noise of that first Christmas night. Too often our pictures of the Holy Family are diminished into a depiction that is all lovely and fair. Mary in her blue robe, gazing lovingly at her smiling newborn; well-behaved shepherds gazing in wonder; rays of angels’ glory streaming in through the windows of a well-swept stable.
It’s makes for a really nice Christmas card, and I can really get into such a scene, especially when I am tired. And none of that is wrong.
It’s just that on Christmas, I want us to want more than a well-swept stable! I want us to stop long enough to know that if you’ve been anywhere close to a barnyard or a labor room, for that matter; neither of them is meek or mild.
Mary was a terrified teenager. Joseph was in over his head. The shepherds were rowdy and obnoxious, maybe been drinking too much to stay warm in the fields.
I wonder if sometimes, we prefer the PhotoShopped version of the Christmas story, for the simple reason that life is hard enough as it is. So maybe at Christmas, just for one night, we don’t really want to hear how tough life was for this young family because, day to day, we have our own struggles to keep our turbulent lives intact. We ourselves struggle to stem the chaos that, too often, threatens to overwhelm us at home, in our marriages, at work, in our jobs, at school, in our significant relationships, and certainly in the world at large.
So how about for just one evening, we could come to church and not hear about the poor and homeless, about war and killing and cancer and heart disease. Can’t we come to church just once to hear only things that are good, pure and beautiful? Is that too much to ask of a preacher on Christmas Eve?
Actually, I think that’s a pretty valid request! We all put an awful lot of energy into managing things, putting out fires, controlling misfits, and, quite frankly, we’re all tired and nearly worn out from our efforts. Little wonder we come to church on this night, of all nights, wanting a respite, wanting and needing to feel good, warm, cozy and inspired. And so we show up tonight, simply hoping to savor the Christmas story, like it’s a kind of comfort food, chicken soup for the Christmas Eve soul!
Except for one thing: that’s not the Christmas story we just heard! Luke knows a whole lot about wanting to put order into chaotic lives. In fact, that may be one of the reasons he begins his Christmas story by naming the rulers in his world who were responsible for keeping the order of the Roman Empire. And his story takes place in the midst of a census, the ultimate act of keeping order in a society, of knowing who’s who, family backgrounds, who the ancestors were! Yet, for Luke, I don’t think that’s the main story.
That is only background, because the main action takes place somewhere else—on the fringe, far away from the centers of power, in this little village in the boondocks where a terrified little girl and her equally terrified husband can’t find a decent place in which to give birth for the their first child, and so are forced to take refuge with the dirty animals, and the filthy shepherds.
Why does Luke tell the story this way? Or maybe more importantly, why does God in Jesus come into the world in this way?
I think, because this entire story is an indictment of the order of the day. I think it is an accusation against the way things are. Maybe another way to say it is that by playing out this redemptive story on the edges of things, just where we don’t expect or want God to be, God is telling us that the way things usually are is just not good enough! It’s almost as if God is whispering—or shouting—to us something that deep down we know already but are afraid to admit: these lives we’ve so carefully created, this world we work so hard to manage, can be beautiful, precious, and wonderful. . . but even the best of lives are still filled with a measure of regret and disappointment, and if we take even a moment to gaze around us, we see how many people lead lives that are difficult, painful and all too short.
And so God comes not at the center of the world to straighten things out a bit, but on the fringe to call the orders and the structures of the day into question and to herald a new beginning altogether!
Ultimately, this Christmas story witnesses to the simple yet scary fact that God didn’t come in Jesus to make things a little better, a little more bearable. No…..God came to turn over the tables, to create a whole new system, to resurrect and to redeem us.
The really scary part, if we are willing to admit it, is that we’ve invested a whole lot of our lives as they are and it can be downright frightening to give up what we know. But at the same time it is thrilling because this promise speaks to a place deep inside each one of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or a higher income, something more than a comfortable home or an enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don’t save us; often enough, in fact, they do not even satisfy us for very long.
I deeply believe we want a sense of meaning and purpose; we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye; we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances, God has come in love!
And so God comes to the edges of the story and our lives to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat and tears of the labor pain of a young mother and cry of her infant that God is steadfastly for us, joined to our ups and downs, our hopes and fears, and that God is committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more.
Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more life as we know it now, but new and abundant life altogether! Because, in Jesus Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God’s tremendous love, until we have truly heard the Good News that “unto you this day is born a savior, Christ the Lord.” I beg you this evening, hear this Good News—“unto you this day is born a savior”— as the best Christmas gift you can ever receive! Amen.
In gratitude, some ideas for this sermon have come from my readings of various blogs by David Lose, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, PA. Thank you, David!
Christmas Eve 24 December 2015