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Jesus: God Making an Entrance (Christmas Eve 11pm)
December 25, 2018

Jesus: God Making an Entrance (Christmas Eve 11pm)

Passage: Luke 2:1-20

Luke's story of the birth of Jesus is a cross-section of ancient Judean society. Augustus Caesar, the man who finally flipped Rome from republic into empire... Augustus is busy trying to rule the world. Quirinius is governor of Syria, a Roman noble climbing the ranks of political office that he might enjoy the favors of Augustus Caesar, by whose word the empire's subjects live or die. One pair of Judean peasants under those men's rule—Mary and Joseph—are caught up in the wheels of empire, ordered to leave home behind to be counted in Bethlehem for a Roman census. Not wanting to cause a fuss, powerless to protest against Roman supremacy... the heavily-pregnant Mary and her husband make the arduous trek. Once in Bethlehem, we meet the innkeeper—a Jewish small business owner—who likewise struggles to stay afloat as Judea still roils from recent Roman civil wars and newly-imposed Roman taxes. While the innkeep is often portrayed as uncaring towards Mary and Joseph, I imagine his “no room” reply as more of a resigned shrug, a forlorn “that's just the way things are here” attitude that is sad to turn them away but knows he must if his inn is to make ends meet. We find shepherds watching their flocks by night, a set of lower-class, blue-collar workers assigned the graveyard shift. Not the most pleasant-smelling bunch, not the most educated or well-spoken: ordinary, common peasant folk of the times who too have their debts to pay, who must worry about where their next meal will come from, where they will sleep. Luke's account of Christmas stretches from the wealthy few in imperial robes... to the petty bureaucrats clawing their way to the top... to middle class folk trying to support families... to the impoverished many just barely scraping by. Each wrapped up in their own concerns, own needs, own fears, own fight to survive.

Into the mundane ordinariness of this human world... angels appear. And suddenly the same old, same old night shift is not the same for shepherds anymore. Suddenly that inn's cattle stall is not quite so forgettable. That peasant couple traveling down dusty roads at the whims of powerful lords they will never meet... suddenly they are not so lowly and weak. For the angel said to the shepherds—and through them to Mary, to Joseph, to us—“Do not be afraid!” In a world filled with Caesars and their wars, taxes, demands, and decrees... in a world where even the sight of kind angels fills us with anticipatory dread, so used are we to spectacle being bad news... into such a world the angels declare: “Do not be afraid! For see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Not for only the Caesars who reign over Judea, not for only the priests and others who have time to study and pray in temples, not for only the wealthy who can afford to lavishly give, not for only the respectable genteel folk who have it all together... “Good news of great joy for all the people,” shepherds and screw-ups included.

To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Notice the angels don't say that Jesus is simply born. Rather, “to you is born.” Jesus' task on earth is no accident: the salvation of humanity is no side effect or collateral damage of Christ's mission but rather the end purpose. “To you he is born.” Not to the angels on high or kings in their courts... but to certain poor shepherds and all the people, to us he is born. And this child is to be a savior, a redeemer, or deliverer. Not only that, the angels declare him Messiah or Christ, one anointed by God. But wait, there's more! Not only is this child Savior and Messiah, the angels call him “Lord,” either hailiung him a king to rival Caesar in power and glory... or declaring him God Almighty in human flesh. And the angels continue: “This will be a proof sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And as they leave, the angelic host celebrates the news: “Glory to God in highest heaven! And on Earth, peace among those whom God favors!” Contrast that bombard of angelic good news... against every other night's watch those shepherds had, against every innkeeper's routine of waiting tables and cleaning floors, against every peasants' trek at the decree of a king, against every would-be emperor of the world demanding others dance to his tune. Christmas hurtles into this ordinary, routine world like a Mack truck down a highway. Good news bursts into the ordinary world of people living their ordinary human lives. And nothing is ordinary any more.

In a few minutes, we'll be sharing in communion together. I've always loved how Jesus didn't give his disciples some arcane ceremony to remember him by: no gold or costly spices or magic charms. Jesus took things every person who's ever lived will have—food and drink—Jesus took the most ordinary, essential parts of living on earth... and he made them sacred. Bread and wine, they nourish us, just as Christ gives us strength. They are separate from us... yet they become part of us, just as God is distinct yet took on human form. These are ordinary foodstuffs purchased at stores we regularly shop at in our own daily lives... yet in the moment of communion they become holy, they mean something more, they symbolize the salvation God has brought us already... and they seal it on our hearts, that we might never forget or go astray.

Christmas is like communion. God takes the ordinary... and infuses—imparts—his holiness into it. A regular winter's night is filled with angelic song. A couple fighting to keep out the cold is blessed with a child who is God incarnate. Shepherds going about their jobs witness the dawning of salvation. An inn's tiny stable... houses the infinite God of the universe. God enters into our midst... brings his sacred might into our ordinary, petty lives... walks among us, suffers with us, dies for us, rises again for us... for “to us a child is born.” God breaks into our earthly, ordinary lives... and the world is never the same.

This Christmas... may we not only celebrate the fact that a child was once born, for children are born every day. May we celebrate the fact of who that particular child is, what that birth means, what God is doing in that moment. For scripture declares how in Jesus Christ, God became flesh and dwelt among us. Emmanuel means “God with us”... the thing that was lost in Genesis' Garden of Eden... the promise given to Israel through Moses and the prophets... the hopeful yearning across the Bible despite all sin and evil and death and loss and guilt and grief... at last that shining vision flowing across the Old Testament finds its fulfillment. God enters the world once more when Jesus the Messiah is born. And through that one cosmic entry-point of Jesus Christ, that one crack in the dyke of sin and death... through that entrance into our world and lives, God's goodness pours out on us sinners, that we might be saved on account of Christ's righteousness. God's holiness pours out upon us ordinary people, that we might share in God's sacred mission of redemption. God's peace pours out upon us troubled ones, that we might at last love God with our entire being and our neighbors as ourselves. In Jesus, born of Mary on Christmas Day, hailed by angels and shepherds, while innkeepers plied their trade and would-be emperors squabbled for fleeting power... in Jesus God at last breaks into our human lives, that we might know God.

And not just once in a dusty shed long ago. Just as God entered the world through Jesus then, God wishes to enter our own hearts this day through Christ. God wishes to pour out grace and forgiveness, love and comfort, peace and hope... into every human soul this day, through the child who was born on that first of Christmases. So we share in worship, we share in communion, we share in Christmas... because God chose to share this life, this world with us... that we might share eternity with him. For the angel said, “Do not be afraid. For see, I bring good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” May he likewise be born in our hearts this day. Amen.


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