Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths 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, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20, ESV)
(from a sermon by Rev. David Schmitt, Voices from the Edge)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The story of Jesus birth is very familiar to us. As Luke tells it is a very startling contrast that he invites us to see. But contrast is between a world that is breaking open in excitement and a young woman putting the pieces together and pondering them in her heart.
On the one hand, the world is breaking forth in excitement. God is peeled back the layer of the heavens so that when the shepherds look up they see Angels instead of stars. The sky is filled with light and angels sing shepherds in the field. Shepherds must think they're in God's presence in the angels song. They are told about God becoming present among in the swaddling baby in the manger. They can't wait to go and see. They find Mary and Joseph and the baby. On the return they tell everyone everything they saw.
There is so much excitement in what they do on the one hand, and on the other hand you have Mary who is treasuring up these things and pondering them in her heart. Everything in Mary's life has changed. And it's all God's doing. Engagement has been complicated by a child. She had to travel too far away place and lay her baby not in a cradle but a manger. Shepherds interrupt the stable with their excitement in their story about angels and singing. In the midst of all of that excitement Mary holds all these things together, pondering them in her heart.
During Advent we listened to Voices from the Edge. It was a series of sermons from various people who spoke about what God was doing, and going to do in the coming of Jesus. The angel voices are also Voices from the Edge. They interrupt the shepherds out there in the field and first thing they say is "be not afraid, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people." But what makes it a great joy?
For you and me greatness usually is something we see as self-evident. Two guys talking about a football game might say something like, "what about that play?" The other will respond "yea, wasn't that great?" There is no need to explain which play it is, it's greatness as self-evident. It's the play that was repeated on instant replay over and over again. It's the play that was spoken about by the commentators. It's the great play. When we talk about things that are great we think of them as obvious.
The Angels tell about something that's great in way that is different from human beings. The Angels tell the shepherds they can see the great thing identified by the sign. "This will be a sign for you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger." The shepherds need assigned to see this great thing. The sign leads them to a place that they would never go to find something great. A baby sleeping in a manger, an animal trough, born to young girl from out of town.
Mary and Joseph have traveled about 60 miles, during the very last days of her pregnancy. The census has forced them to leave their home in journey to Bethlehem. There is no place for them to stay because of the crowds. She goes into labor, has the baby, and there's no place to put him but in a manger. If we wern't so familiar with this story we might wonder why everything was going so badly for them. You would never think that this was the account of the birth of God. And so the Angels had to give a sign, "this birth is for you!"
The joy that God brings is great because it goes beyond what we can see. If things are going badly God must be against me. If things are going well God must be for me. This is not what God's word tells us. We don't decide what God thinks of us because of the circumstances we live in. He has declared that he is for us in all circumstances. So his joy does not depend on the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it depends on God's love. And so God's great joy can be found places where we least expect it to be found. God's great joy depends on his love, so we can find it anywhere.
A pastor once saw this comfort in a very real way. He had a parishioner who was spending her Christmas at the bedside of her daughter who was dying. Lois was his parishioner. Her daughter Kathy was in one of the first weddings he performed when he came to the church. And this year, Kathy was dying. What started out as breast cancer had spread to her brain and her bones, and Kathy was at home in hospice care. One day, when pastor came and visited, he told Lois he was sorry. “I’m sure it’s difficult to go through this,” he said “especially this time of year.” “Yes,” Lois said “yes, pastor, it’s hard.” She told him how she and her husband were getting all of these Christmas cards from friends who didn’t know what was happening. Every day, her husband would bring over the mail and she’d open another card wishing her a Merry Christmas. She was staying at her daughter’s house. They’d put a hospital bed in the living room and she slept on the sofa, so her husband brought her the mail. Every day, someone was sending her a card and wishing her a Merry Christmas. And she said, “I’d like to send out cards this year but I just can’t.” He told her that, of course, she wouldn’t send out cards. People would understand. But then she said, “No pastor, you don’t understand. I want to send out cards this year because this year I know what Christmas is really about.” He asked what she meant and she told him that Christmas is about God being with us. She told him about how she sleeps when her daughter sleeps and gets up when her daughter wakes. How she gives her morphine and turns her and changes her and bathes her, and she said, “I know I wouldn’t be able to do any of this, if it wasn’t for God. I know he is here with us and he’s bringing Kathy to be with him.” This Christmas, Lois is picking up the pieces. She’s taking the excitement of her friends at Christmas, the cards and the letters, and the suffering of her daughter, and she is holding them together, pondering them and discovering a holy joy. Lois is trusting in the true joy of Christmas. God came to be with us so that in the end we might be with him, and await that day when he raises us from the dead and brings about a new creation.
In our Christmas celebrations we spend time trying to make everything perfect. We try to cook the perfect dinner, search for the perfect gift, want to have the perfect family gathering. It is a standard that we want to reach a picture we have painted in our mind of the perfect Christmas. Nothing wrong with that, it's good to want to rejoice in the great joy that God has brought to you through Jesus Christ in this way. But the picture of perfection will never be met. Sin always shoves in its ugly head to our families. Their arguments that never seem to end. May be a recent divorce or death covers everything. These things loom over us and try to ruin Christmas. Sin makes its appearance known even in the midst of our great joy. Right there in the middle of our broken Christmas we remember this is exactly why God came to be with us. He loves us regardless of our circumstances. He became a human being, lived among us, in the middle of our sinful circumstances, and offered his life for the forgiveness of our sin. He lived, died and rose again and promises that "I will never leave you nor forsake you." That includes when Christmas seems to be broken instead of perfect. Think about the Angels and their voices from the edge. God has given you great joy. That great joy is not always obvious. It isn't great because it's obvious. It's great because it is God's love. Because God shows his love to us in this way,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
The great joy of Christmas is that God loves sinners. God, in Jesus Christ, was born of the Virgin Mary, for you and your broken Christmas. God, in Jesus Christ, is crucified dead and buried for you and your broken Christmas. God, in Jesus Christ, on the third day he rose again from the dead, for you and your broken Christmas. His great joy can come into your life and bring comfort. Because God has come to be with you and your broken Christmas. "You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.