Preached on Christmas at St. John Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
Christmas, Year A
Why does Christmas matter to you?
What brings you to church on a dark winter night?
Because it’s what your family does?
Because your parents insist? But why do you think they do?
There are many possibilities and tonight I’ll talk about one of them.
I suggest that we come together to remember the story. It’s a story that gives meaning to many of the other strange things we do at this time of year – like cutting down trees, bringing them in the house and hanging things on the branches. Or stranger still, making artificial trees to put in the house and decorating them. Like giving gifts to people we never meet. Like hanging stockings that no one would or could ever wear and expecting something to happen to them overnight!
Even if we didn’t do all those things or any of them, we tell the story over and over again, every year, not just to remember Jesus’ birth but also in order to be reminded of who we are in God’s sight; who we are in God’s heart. So let’s look at the story.
Luke tells a story about God. He starts by setting the stage; telling us about the world. Rome rules. This is a story about Empire and Power. Augustus is the most powerful, important man in the world at that time. And he compels the people to travel, to be registered, so they can be taxed.
With that backdrop, he quickly shifts our focus to the other end of the spectrum of power; to Mary and Joseph and to some shepherds and the unremarkable birth of a baby.Now these folks don’t have much money or power or influence. They don’t even have very much control over their own lives. They live under foreign occupation. They do as they’re told.
Mary and Joseph would not choose to travel when she is so close to delivery, but they must; the emperor compels them. The shepherds care for sheep that belong to another on land they don’t own.
Then there are the angel, God’s messenger, and the heavenly host. The angel announces to shepherds of all people. This is good news for their lives. A baby has been born nearby; a very special baby he is for you, the angel tells the shepherds, a Savior, the Messiah, Lord.
The angel gives them a sign so they can check it out. We’ve talked about this before. When they see the sign, they’ll know that what the messenger says is true, that it’s a message from God. The sign is a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Something compels the shepherds to go; to leave their fields and their flocks; to see for themselves. Maybe it was the hope in the message or maybe it was the heavenly chorus showing up. But something propelled them toward that stable in Bethlehem. And there they found exactly what the angel had said. The message was true!
We keep this story alive not because of that baby 2000 years ago, but because of what it means for our lives now. God in Jesus is born into the messiness of our lives. Born in the messiness of a stable, a long way from home; at an inconvenient time and place to unlikely people.
Do you ever try to get everything perfect? You know, the whole house clean at the same time; everything in the garage perfectly organized and in its place; no weeds in the yard. Or maybe you try to find the perfect Christmas tree and decorations, the perfect gift or dinner or date or marriage proposal. If I just had the right job or a perfect body… okay, the list could go on all night. If we could just get that perfect, life would be good.
Jesus doesn’t wait for us to clean up our act and get it perfect or right. Instead, Jesus joins us in the messiness and brokenness of our lives; of our world – not to fix it or make it perfect, but because we matter to God; because you matter to God.
That’s what this story tells us – reminds us.
There are lots of lofty claims made about Jesus and the meaning of Christmas and yes, I’m going to offer one, but when it comes down to it, the Christmas story is very intimate and its significance is personal.
So here’s the lofty claim.
In Jesus, God embraces our humanity, our humanness, our bodies and our messiness. In Jesus, God gives dignity to all of human life, not just the “important” people but people who are poor or who have lousy jobs or no jobs, people who have nowhere to live, people without power or money or influence, people with messy, broken lives. NO one is excluded; all have dignity.
The story we tell on Christmas reminds us that God enters our humanity and declares that we have worth to God and are deeply loved. We are created in love, for love. Because love has to keep moving, we are created to receive God’s love and then to pour God’s love out to the world. And so, we do things like giving gifts to strangers.
So, that’s my suggestion – We retell the story because it reminds us who we are in God’s eyes – people with dignity and of profound worth – and who we are in God’s heart – loved beyond measure.
In the end, though, the Christmas story is intimate; it’s deeply personal.
What does it say to your soul?