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Christmas Eve Sermon
Luke 2: 1-20

December 24, 2021

Sermon Archives


Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
15 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.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

In the past year I have struck up a social media friendship with Carrie Ballenger, the ELCA pastor of the English-speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the old city of Jerusalem. Carrie shared the story of how, a few days before Christmas in 2016, she was making her way to the New Gate in the city wall with her arms full of groceries and a poinsettia. She had shared greetings through the Old City with friends she met along the way - “Kul sane wa intou salmeen!” Which means, “Merry Christmas, y’all” in Arabic. With her arms loaded down, they smiled and dispensed of the customary handshakes, kisses and tiny cups of coffee that are usually customary in middle eastern hospitality. With school recently letting out for the holiday break, Carrie found herself clutching her items close to her body and getting out of the way to avoid the end-of-school Christmas crush through the narrow street. Suddenly a little boy no more than six years old approached her. He didn’t speak, but only held a broken green Christmas ornament to her face. She gave him a look of desperation, not knowing what he wanted her to do with it. She put her bags and flower down on the ground and took the ornament out of the boy’s hand as he held it out to her. The side was cracked, and she could tell that it was once shaped like a bell. The hole in the top through which to thread a hook to hang it was completely gone. Carrie says, “My two-second judgement was that this kid, seeing a responsible-looking adult, was picking up trash from the street and being helpful. It reminded me of what my own kids used to do when finding something weird on a walk to the park.” They would say, “Here Mom - I picked this up, and now I don’t know what to do with it … so you take it!”

Carrie looked at the ornament and then the boy and said, “Harbani!” “It’s broken.” She immediately knew that she had miscalculated as the boy looked at the bell and then back at her and reflected a disappointment. It was a gift for her … broken, to be sure, but still a gift. Before she had a chance to make amends and thank him, he was off running down the street to join his friends. She yelled, “Shukran! Kul sane wa inta salam!” Thank you! Merry Christmas! He stopped and swung around, a huge smile flashed across his face as he shouted back, “Wa inti salme!” And also for you! And then he was off in a flurry of after-school joy.

The first twenty verses of Luke 2 describe what it is like when the heavens break open and ordinary human beings encounter the holy. It is frightening, and yet, it is ordinary. It involves an army of angels, and a group of shepherds tending their flocks. It involves earthly rulers making their subjects travel to their ancestral homes so that they can be correctly taxed and counted, I imagine so that the emperor can brag about how many people he can order to do things like this; and it involves an ordinary couple arriving in a town where the only place they can lay their heads and welcome their baby is a stable. That might have been a cave on the outskirts where animals were kept; it might have been a part of one of their relatives’ houses set aside for the animals. Either way, there was no room anywhere else, so they settled in there.

That story I shared with you earlier was about a gift from an ordinary boy to someone he might or might not have even known - a gift that was broken and imperfect, but was precious, shared out of love, nonetheless. Pastor Carrie, in reflecting on that gift, says, “In our nativity scenes and on our Christmas cards Mary always looks serene. Joseph has everything under control. The stable looks as if it has been cleaned. And the baby Jesus - well, no crying he makes! All is calm, all is bright. But the scandal of the incarnation is that the Messiah didn’t come as a king, or a celebrity, or the perfect specimen of a human being. Jesus came as a real baby in a real body. A body that was broken for us. This means that today we experience Emmanuel, God with Us, through the beautiful AND the broken things - and perhaps amidst the beautifully broken things - of the world.”

I love that message because it is good news for all of us who are beautifully made by God AND are also broken people. In his reflection yesterday, Father Richard Rohr wrote about what it means that God has really become human in Jesus this night: Now God in Jesus is on our very earth where he is no better off than we and where he receives no special privileges, but our very fate: hunger, weariness, enmity, mortal terror, and a wretched death. That the infinity of God should take on human narrowness, that bliss should accept the mortal sorrow of the earth, that life should take on death - this is the most unlikely truth. But only the obscure light of faith makes our nights bright and holy.

On this holy night we celebrate because in Jesus, God has told us how much we are loved - broken and yet beautifully created as we are - by becoming one of us, beautifully broken as well. Tonight, we hear once again that God is not bound to the realm of the heavenly and the perfect. God came to us through Jesus - born under Roman occupation, wrapped and laid in a manger; worshiped by shepherds, hunted by a king, rejected by religious authorities … surrounded by sinners and outcasts - including you and me. Eventually arrested, beaten, crucified, and raised again. A beautiful gift for the whole world, broken for us all. Thanks be to God; Amen.