Luke 2: 1-20
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.
The past four weeks we have been exploring, through our Sunday services, the various members of the Holy Family. The parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the Holy Couple themselves, Mary and Joseph. Today we gather on this cold winter evening to celebrate the final member of the Holy Family, the one that sanctifies all others mentioned and each of us gathered here today – our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The great drama of human history has finally met its main protagonist. God, the creator of all things and the author of every story, now has come to dwell among us as a human being. Born in a stable, laid in a food trough, the eternal Word of God now knows what it is to be cold, to be hungry, to feel the prick of straw bedding.
Christmas is the day we all take a moment to remember that the story of our salvation began with mundane pieces. A government official wants to collect more taxes, and so he calls for a census to be taken in order to determine exactly what amount he might begin taking in. A couple, unmarried and yet expecting a child, make their way from the small village of Nazareth to the slightly more cosmopolitan Bethlehem, as near to a suburb of Jerusalem as the ancient world could muster. There a child is born; there a mother falls asleep with her husband and child nearby. There, somehow against all odds, the salvation of all humanity was set in stone.
As with everything surrounding Christmas, we don’t know much about the night Jesus was born. We celebrate it on December 25th, but there are many reasons behind that, few of which have to do with Jesus’s actual birthdate. Some people do the math to say he was born in March, some others insist December makes equal historical sense. Yet, the actual date doesn’t much matter. While this day is fixed in our calendars, plenty of other important ones are not. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox, and yet that day is still important to us as though it were the actual moment Jesus rose from the dead. In the same way, today is, to us, the day Jesus was born, because we celebrate it as such.
Today the walls between Heaven and Earth lose all meaning. God sits among us. The long separation between God and humanity is finally erased. God is a human being. The long wait for salvation is finally ended. God has come down to save us. Christmas is the celebration of love, manifested in the most fragile of forms. An infant, born into a world where not many children lived to even be named. A child named “Salvation,” a child named Jesus.
The story of those who brought Jesus into this world are simple stories. A couple who longed for a child finally having one. A couple due to be married when a surprise pregnancy threatens everything they thought they had known. A loving cousin who keeps the young girl safe, a gentle angel that assures that boy that he is doing the right thing in going on loving his fiancé and her unborn child. The set pieces, minus perhaps the angels involved, are not unlike something we might see right here in North View. God could have made a grand entry into the world, but God chose to make a much more gentle one.
A hundred million lessons are set out before us when we pick up this story. The importance of worship, the power of family, the significance of a mother’s love. Yet, if we have been paying attention to the past few weeks we have spent together, I hope we can see that the real lesson of Christmas is in the simplicity of it all. Normal people worked to bring salvation into the world, and that remains true for us today. It is not the work of politicians and kings and rich donors that brings about the Kingdom of God. It is the work of the everyday person, of the poor and the disgraced, the cast aside and the unhoused, the lowest of the low. God came down on Christmas and God, who was owed a chariot of gold, came down in rags.
Though in the distance, foreign magicians were making their way across Arabia to visit Jesus, the only witnesses that night were shepherds. Unwashed, uneducated, rough and tumble shepherds were the first to attest to the glory of God’s salvation. How strange it would have been to see them dancing in the streets singing the songs the angels had taught them. They pointed to a distant stable, perhaps attached to a house and perhaps set into a stone wall, and they insisted “God is in that manger, cradled next to his mother, and God is here to save us.” Lunatics, madmen, or perhaps the first people outside of Mary to bring the truth of Jesus into the world.
As brief as our time together tonight is, it is a reflection of that night long ago. Unassuming though that night was, unremarkable in any of its features except to those who knew what it brought. A light, furtive and small, bursting out in the darkness of a sin-sick world. A light, blazing truth through the lies that we had built up around ourselves. A light that flickered, and threatened to go out, but would not be snuffed out just yet. The light of Christ, the shining love of God on display for all to see.
The work begins, once we leave here, to make sure that that light is allowed to shine. It is a light spread not with cruel flames that cut through the world, but with the gentle smoldering of our hearts. Love is like a fire, that jumps between the embers within us, alighting and bringing yet more light into the world around us. The simple message of Advent is summarized in Christmas, that God is coming to be among us, and God is already here. So go out tonight, to be with family and friends, and go out tonight in the knowledge that salvation truly is here with us. Go forward and love the world, love each person like they are family and protect them, feed them, house them, however you can. Christ is born in Bethlehem; Christ lives among us. The glory of God now must cover the earth, and all the world proclaim the glory of our salvation. Today we celebrate a world that will never be the same. Today we say, Merry Christmas. – Amen.