Christmas Eve Sermon
Tonight we all come together to once again ponder the mystery of God coming to earth in the form of a helpless baby. The story is one we now so well and each year we all feel the pull to come to church to make sense of this wondrous event as well as understanding our part to play in the arc of human history.
He comes not to Herod or Quirinius or Annas or Caiaphas. We don’t find Jesus in the temple for a few weeks when Mary and Joseph will bring him for the presentation. He is not born in the middle of an extended family but in a crude stable at the back of an overcrowded inn. Born amongst barn animals and laid in a feeding stall.
The news of the Savior’s birth is not heralded to the powerful but rather as we know to the shepherds huddling around a fire taking turns wandering through the herds of sheep. Warding off predators while pausing to look up at the sky. Will it remain clear? Are those clouds on the horizon? What was that noise? Did I see a shadow?
And then the one question we all ask ourselves-do I matter? The vastness of the open sky makes one feel small and insignificant.
Shepherds were the lowest on the social rung standing alongside tax collectors and prostitutes in the disgust society has for them. Shepherds were stereotyped as liars and thieves. Not be trusted and what better way than to send them to the outside of town. Shepherds were not permitted to give evidence in court and there were ordinances to keep them from the city limits. As shepherds worked on the Sabbath, they were declared ritually unclean and not allowed into the temple.
Living in the fields, each night they gaze upon the lights in town knowing in their hearts they are not wanted. They are not invited to sit around a courtyard fire with family and friends. They are not included in the joy of a wedding or the mourning at a funeral. Sighing they turn away back towards their own miserable existence. Yearning to be seen and recognized.
If they were able to sneak into town, they would spat upon, and shouted at. Soon the words become embedded in their DNA and they begin to give up on themselves. Believe what they have the words hurled at them across the town square or the sidelong looks and glares.
For them life is one long slog. Everyday is gray and the same. But on that night long ago, a blast of light filled the night sky and earth shook. The clouds part and there what sounds like a thousand wings flapping feverishly overhead. We know what happens next angels appear and tell them a savior has been born, they decide to chance being caught by the Roman soldiers on patrol in the town and find the child. They rush and find the young couple.
Men who have given up on society, given up on the temple, given up on justice and ultimately given up on themselves. The good news in the story is not just God, came as a vulnerable baby but God came to vulnerable humans. People like you and me. People who may have given up on friends, family, society even themselves. People young and old who feel misunderstood or unwanted, dispensable.
What does Jesus birth mean for us? Some say it’s a nice story. Others say it didn’t happen. While still others feel so removed from God they say nothing. But it is not only about the birth of Jesus, it is about God telling each and every one of us tonight, tomorrow, and all the days to come he has not given up on us. Perhaps you know someone who has given up on the Church. Or even at times maybe you have given up on the God. Those are the moments to remember God does not give up on you or me or anyone inside or outside the Church.
Tonight is more than about a birth of our savior. It is about no matter how lost, or bitter or vulnerable someone is, God knows and God cares. As trite as this may sound to some, it is the lifeline which has kept many of us going through the hard slog of life, like the shepherds did.
The angels appearing to the shepherds is more than the heralding of Jesus’ birth, it is the loud proclamation to all of us God is willing to do anything to get our attention. God proclaims through the birth of Jesus that he has not given up on us. He has entrusted us to care for our creation, one another and to care for ourselves.
There was a story in the paper yesterday about Nativity scenes being vandalized around the country. Churches and town halls have taken to installing trail cameras and going so far as to install GPS tracking devices to the baby Jesus. Understandably distressing. It is though a larger metaphor for what happened all those years ago which is
The birth of Jesus is a physical moment in time and it is a spiritual moment still happening today. Tonight we remember Jesus is being born where people need him most. Jesus is being born for us who believe but also for everyone who feels left out, scared and lonely. Angels still continue to give us tidings of comfort and joy tonight and every night.
Jesus continues to be born tonight and every night in the places and with the people that need him the most. Nothing can keep him in the manger, the feeding trough. He is out here among us. Feeding us with hope, love and his presence. Jesus is in the world tonight going to the places and people who need him the most. Jesus is born tonight here with you and with me. Let these words ring out to the world-let every heart prepare him room going to the places where he is needed most. Bringing peace to all.
Shake it off
You have stept out of your place, you have bine rather a husband than a wife and a preacher than a hearer and a magistrate than a subject.
Those words burned Anne Hutchinson’s ears as she was convicted of heresy and “lying” in 1637 by a General court for preaching as soon as one accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he goes to heaven. Behavior does not keep one out of heaven. These were shocking to the leaders in the colonies.
There was great distrust of Hutchinson because of her influence over women. There is as we know a long history of anger and frustration of women in the church. From Eve in the garden. Puritans thought of women as being weak of faith and intellect. They were temptresses and scripture declared they be submissive in accordance with the Bible. She was banished humiliated her family moved to Rhode Island.
You have stept out of your place Mr. Jesus.
When people step out of their boxes, it is often met with ridicule, anger and distrust on both sides. The Common English Bible's interpretation is the people were repulsed by him. Pretty strong language. In fact, who does He think he is wafts through gospel. When the crowd identifies Him as the carpenter, Mary’s son, they are implying He is illegitimate. So if He is illegitimate, then His ministry, His teaching in fact everything about Him is illegitimate.
They close themselves off to Him so he cannot heal or teach. They don’t believe Him and He is appalled by their unbelief. So He left.
Have you ever been told that you have stept out of your place? Not those words exactly but phrases like, “you’ve changed” “you didn’t use to like fill in the blank-football, beets, mystery novels” or “you think your better than us”
All code for there is a picture of you I carry in my mind and when you change it is as if you have taken that picture out of my hands and ripped it into a million pieces. If I don’t know who you are, how can I know who I am. And if I don’t know who you are because you have changed, maybe you will stop loving me. Or you will leave me or you will mock me or any other such million or’s that float around in our heads.
Hurt and anger descends on both sides. Relationships rupture. Feelings are hurt. Words are said and hearts are broken.
Jesus like Anne Hutchinson and all the others through history have upset the status quo and we don’t like it. We want our Jesus meek and mild not the appalled, horrified Jesus. Jesus didn’t just disrupt the status quo with his peers, he continues to disrupt it.
Jesus stomps away muttering under his breath “Nitwits, knuckleheads.” He mimics the crowd, “Isn’t that Mary’s son?” Still feeling the sting of rebuke the shame still hot on his face. As he approaches the disciples, he straightens up, “I’ll show you. C’mon we’re getting out of here. We’ll go where we are wanted.” And with that they are gone.
In 1990 I attended Mark's class reunion and met a former classmate David Butts. He had was wearing a beautiful custom silk suit and his date was drop dead gorgeous. When I asked Mark who this fellow was in high school, he responded no one really like him and he was an outcast. I thought to myself, who has had the last laugh now?
I would love to know how Mr. Butts shrugged off the insults and the taunts to become a successful business person. He had what emotional fortitude. The spine to think I don’t care what others say, I am going to be my own person.
People like that are fascinating. They have a drive, determination and indeed passion to break out of the stereotype of who others want them to be. To rise up and strike out for better things, a better life. Jesus promised the people standing around him the very same thing. The problem was they were so hung up on who He was, they couldn’t see or hear who He thought they could be. People worthy of being healed, nurtured and cared for. People who are loved no matter what just as Anne Hutchinson preached. People who are capable of doing great things if they could only open their minds and use their imaginations.
We have the same opportunity everyday that was given to those new followers of Jesus. We just have to be willing to shake the dust from the stories we have been told about ourselves and write new ones. One of the fascinating things about this story is Jesus doesn’t let the people define him, he chooses to define himself. It is the ultimate freedom, to be truly who God wants you to be and be willing to follow wherever it may lead. Risking rejection and ridicule because ultimate freedom comes from a relationship with God and embracing who we are wholeheartedly.
What is a weekend?
In today's readings the focus is on the Sabbath. Deuteronomy reiterates the Ten Commandments but with commandment of keeping the Sabbath holy, God adds, all people are to have time off. So if we think about it, God gave us our first labor law. We know through history people worked seven days a week with perhaps Christmas Day off. There were no trips out of town or holiday time away with friends and family. People worked themselves sometimes literally to death. The fall-out from all of this was the rise in alcoholism and child neglect. Society was filled with the lost and broken due to lack of care and attention God commanded of us.
Weekends are a relatively new phenomenon. In Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess asks over dinner, "What is a weekend?" What we have taken as a joke, she was perfectly honest in asking. It is the 1920's at this point in the story and the Countess was born in 1840, a weekend was a relatively new invention. It came from working people going to a friend's house at week's end. Friday evening until Sunday morning. Perhaps you remember the world stopping on Sunday. Then it changed. Suddenly in the 1970's stores began opening and Sunday became like any other day.
Fast forward to 2018, and people do not even take holidays off. Employees are constantly wired for work. The expectation is we will always be available no questions asked. It has become the norm to work all the time. In fact, we believe there is something wrong with us if we are not in perpetual motion. Even retirees have schedules that would put most 20-somethings to shame.
As the school year closes out how many of us recall on the last day of school running out of building feeling free. We had time off. Time to play, and imagine. To think and to read. The weeks stretched out in front us with glorious possibilities. I for one think we need to reclaim those feelings to take time to think and read and imagine. No matter our age.
God's command to rest on the Sabbath is a welcome respite from all the shall not's in the Ten Commandments. This one is "Thou shall rest." Good advice from the Man himself who even managed a day off after creating the world and all that is in it.