Christmas Eve 2013, Year A
Isaiah 9.2-7; Luke 2.1-20
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace from the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.
For as long as I can remember I have heard the Christmas story from Luke at least once a year. Every time I would hear it I thought: “This is a nice story.” [Certainly when I was little I was wishing it was a little shorter so we could get home and open presents.] I knew the story. Perhaps it became even a little less special because I thought I already knew everything there was to know about the story, sort of like an old hat type of thing.
The story became new for me the time I went to celebrate Christmas with my in-laws five years ago. They have specific traditions they do every Christmas. One of these traditions is reading out loud the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.
With all of us gathered in the room, my Aunt-in-law sat down with a Bible and opened it to Luke chapter 2. She began to read “In those days…” She stopped and kept her head down. After a few moments she began again, “In those days…” her voice cracked and she stopped. I started to look around at these new family members of mine to better understand what was happening. Everyone was still. She tried again: “In those days a decree when out…” she stopped and looked up. Tears were running down her face. “I can’t do this. Someone else is going to have to read the story.”
I realized then that her mother, who had died 5 years earlier, was the one who had usually read the story of Jesus’ birth. The tears of my new family members, the remembrance of the loss of a beloved one, and the angels words in the Gospel reading: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2.10),” converged that night for me. It gave me a new way of hearing the story of God coming to earth as a human being, as a vulnerable baby, right into the midst of loss, imperfection, and what Isaiah calls (names as): darkness.
I thought I knew the story well, but that night 5 years ago it was like I was hearing it for the first time. God, like the story, comes to us where we are at and we hear about God’s saving work and presence in the world in new and different ways depending on our situation and how life has changed for us since one year or even five years ago on this night.
What is different for you this year? How have you changed? Where does this salvation story meet you tonight especially if you are hearing it literally for the first time?
This Christmas I am particularly drawn to the part of the story where it tells us that “there was no place for them in the inn.” Mary, the one who bears the Son of God in her womb, and Joseph, the one who has angels visit him in his dreams, and Jesus himself as a new born infant, have no place. The very first Christmas was so far from what we might think of as perfect.
Mary and Joseph were far from home, there were no doctors or nurses or a clean hospital bed in order for her to give birth. None of their family members or friends were there for support. Who knows what food they had or where they would get their next meal. With this less than perfect and actually quite desperate situation, God shows up and is more present in the world than ever through this little baby named, Jesus.
There is a certain culture built up around Christmas that if we don’t have money to buy presents, if we don’t have a big turkey on the table and Christmas cookies, if we are not in a certain place with certain people, if we have family problems, then Christmas is less than perfect, and is even painful, lonely, and hard. This is especially true if a loved one has died, or if for many of you, you cannot be wherever home is tonight.
Christmas is not about perfection, who you are with, or even where you are. It is about God always coming to us no matter where we are, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, no matter who we have lost and how we are feeling on this night. It is about the Word of God made flesh, born into the world we live in for you and for me.
Jesus was and is born so God would become touchable, present, and real…not just 2000 years ago, but everyday and always. It was so that we would know that God cares more about loving us and being present with us then about the ways we mess up in life. It was so that when loved ones die we would know that they are with God as God is with us; we would know that we will see them again in the resurrection of the dead. Christmas is about God saying to us: You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are loved.
We can hear the Christmas story and think, “How nice…a birth, angels and shepherds,” but until we, you and I, let the story seep into our bones, it’s nothing more than a nice story.
Martin Luther said this in one of his Christmas sermons: “He [the angel] does not simply say: ‘Christ is born,’ but: ‘for you he is born.’” “What good would it do me, if he were born a thousand times and if this were sung to me every day with the loveliest airs, if I should not hear that there was something in it for me and that it should be my own (Feasting on the Word, p. 116)?”
Often times people think of God as a bearded guy on a chair up in the clouds, not as a swaddled newborn infant that we can hold in our arms. The baby in the manger is for you; Jesus is the grace of God made known to us in the flesh. In other words: in bone, muscle, blood, and skin, tangible and real. Christ is born still into our lives all the time in many ways. God shows up in all of us here, in all of our less than perfect lives and less than perfect Christmas.
I happen to love the song “O Holy Night.” I think I love it so much because it speaks so honestly of the painful realities of the world, yet it names the incredible hope we all have because God has become incarnate in our world:
Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviors birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born;
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
God is on the move and is present in this world, in your life and mine. The baby who was born without an address, the infant and toddler that was on the run as a refugee for at least the first 2 years of his life, the young boy who asked questions in the temple, the man who touched people with skin disease and ate with all the wrong people who were called “sinners,” the Son who died on the cross for your sake and for mine, the one who conquered death, is the one we celebrate and give praise to this night…the baby in the manger.
May we all hear the Christmas story anew. As we gather around the table, may we feel Christ in our hands and take him into our bodies. As we light candles tonight, may we see the light of Christ that lights up our darkness. As we say to one another, “Peace be with you,” may we remember that it is God’s promise in Jesus to the world that “there shall be endless peace.”
There was no place for them in the inn, but God is now present in every place, every person, every heart, everywhere.