Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.3 All went to their own towns to be registered.4 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.5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.7 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.8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 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:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."13 And 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 favors!" [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."16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.]
There’s a profound sense of attentiveness this night. I wish you could see what I see. Ya know, every week I stand in the pulpit and read from the gospel. Typically, the majority of folks are reading along in their bulletin. A few are looking at me as a I read, but most are readinging along.
But on a night like tonight, there is a intriguing sense of awareness and attentiveness. Tonight when the gospel was read, a few eyes followed along in the bulletin, but an above average amount of people looked to me as I read. Or rather, looked to the gospel as it was proclaimed.
There is a profound sense of attentiveness this night. Now whether that attentiveness comes from genuine intrigued, fascination, and wonder with what God is up to in this story...or if it is rooted in “yah, we know the story, hurry up and get to the good stuff so we can get back home to our presents and packages, our dinners and cookies...our family traditions ...or bed. Either way, tonight’s proclamation of the gospel beckons us into a renewed sense of wonder and attentiveness.
That nativity story is one of great familiarity. Perhaps we can’t all recite it perfectly with its many details and nuances, but I suspect the majority of us gathered here can paraphrase it with confidence. It is the same gospel story proclaimed every single year on Christmas Eve, and even if this is your first time worshipping in a Lutheran church on Christmas Eve, I would venture to guess that we all know what to expect this night. The Spirit has brought us all together in this place, and I doubt there was much question as to what passage might be read from scripture.
It’s a familiar story, and we’re glad to hear. And I think the familiarity of the story makes us extra attentive and aware not because we’re eagerly waiting to hear something new, discover a new angle or detail, uncover some new nugget from within the story that will blow our minds… I think the heightened attentiveness and awareness is because we know the story so well and we rely on this night, we depend on this story because it is constant. It is certain. It is reliable.
So That no matter what is going on in our world...no matter the consternation, brokenness, or despair….the nativity story remains a light of hope. A beacon of love that proclaims a God who is abundantly up to good… A reminder that God defied all expectations and fulfilled a promise to intimately abide with the world through Jesus Christ - the Emmanuel.
In tonight’s story, a young, unwed, and unexpectedly now pregnant couple are required, mandated to return to their place of family origin to be counted in the census. The requirement comes as a decree from Emperor Augustus for all the world to be counted. So they journey to Bethlehem, not by choice but by obligation.
They traveled wearily for days only to be un-welcomed as though they are strangers in a foreign land. They didn’t feel welcome. There was no place for them to stay. No room. They were lost and alone in the city of Bethlehem. And even though they were filled with the promise of God in the form of a baby child...the bearer of God made flesh had no place to lay her head.
In tonight’s story the shepherds, minding their own business were keeping watch over their flocks by night. They were on high alert with intent listening in order to protect the flock. And all due respect to Shepherds, but in that day they did not hold a very high status on the vocational totem poll. They were filthy, dirty, overworked, and underpaid. They worked long hours and slept outside with animals. They were at the bottom of the first century socio-economic world.
And in tonight’s story, the story we so dearly love, God acts in the most scandalous way. God becomes incarnate in the form of a baby boy, born to a lowly, unwelcomed and wandering family, born in a setting least suited for a king. Casting the mighty and powerful aside, the heavenly angels declare good news to the poor and lowly.
The angels go to the fields and seek out the discarded and underappreciated shepherd workers and says Today...we bring you good news of great joy for all the people, because a Today a baby is born and that baby is God’s son. And he is the Messiah. He will reign in such a way that the world could never expect.
And Honestly, at its surface, nothing about this story makes sense. Nothing about is deserving of a headline or media frenzy. Nothing about this unknown, unwelcomed couple having an illegitimate child in an unsavory location in the middle of the night is cause for any attention. There is no reason for the world to care. There is no reason for the world to listen to shepherds proclaiming all they’ve seen and heard.
And yet, here we are this Christmas eve to hear the familiar story. With eager anticipation and an attentive ear we lean into something faithful. Something reliable. Something genuine. Something true.
I think we trust this story and its place within our lives because it is a proclamation of truth and hope in amidst a world ravaged by false testimony, unfaithful witness, insecurity,... a world that can be experienced as luring and deceptive, bearing false hope to those least, last, and lost.
We tune our ear, like shepherds in a field by night, to the glory of God’s victory. In this precious moment we remember that God took on flesh, for the sake of the whole world. God became incarnate to live and breath among us. To wander in wade in the experiences of life. To know true joy among family and friends and to dwell in the deepest moments of grief. God became incarnate to share in the breadth of human emotions and experiences, even to the point of death on a cross.
And I think we’re so attentive to this oh so familiar story because we know the ending.
We know the completeness of God’s work in the world.
We know that this Christ child, born of lowly parents in a place not worthy of being called a bed or home...we know this Christ child, the emmanuel, God with us changes the world. Changes the course of humanity by flipping the world’s expectations and proclaiming a message of hope, life, love, and peace to the whole world, especially those considered the lowest among us.
We attend to the scandal of this night--God breaking forth to dwell among us, in the vulnerable moments of human existence because the proclamation is reliable. It’s truth. It’s promise. It’s hope. It’s for you and me, and for the whole world.
And while the world might work desperately and tirelessly to oppose this message of hope...as the world bends, fractures, and breaks...dividing, distorting, and abusing relationships….as the world lures us to believe that wealth, power, status, and self indulgence is life giving or life saving….God humbles the world.
Through a virgin named Mary and a man named Joseph, God blesses us with divine presence. For no other reason than the fact that God loves us that much.
So dear friends, while we lean into God’s victory tonight...as we tune in attentively to the old, reliable, message of hope. May it be a reminder that God is still just as active among us today. Christ, the emmanuel, being born among us is but a turning point in a the greater narrative of God’s hope for the world.
May this night, this O so holy night, be a reminder...No, an invitation to remain attentive. Attentive not only to the glory of God in the story of Jesus, but attentive and alert to the work of God here and now. The power of God among us today...casting the mighty down from their thrones and uplifting the lonely.
Like shepherds in the field, attentive to their flock and their lives...may we keep watch, be alert...heighten our awareness because
Dear siblings in Christ….Tonight we proclaim good news of great joy! For us and for our salvation, a child is born this day in the city of David. a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Emmanuel
© Pastor Daniel Locke, preached Dec. 24, 2018 @ St. Mark's JAX