Christmas Eve 2018
The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the second chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
All went to their own towns to be registered.
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.
He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
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.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth 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 heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
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."
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
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.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our newborn Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is a familiar story to most of us. We love to hear it every year on Christmas eve. In our minds we paint a beautiful picture like the children's pageants we all remember with the pretty angel costumes and the cute little shepherds with their crooks walking in together and all of them standing beside the manger and singing "Away in a Manger."
Maybe you got to be Mary in her beautiful blue robe smiling down on the sleeping baby. Or you were Joseph, standing by, ready to help. Or your children were among the adoring shepherds standing there with the fluffy white sheep. Or you were in the angel chorus spreading your wings over the stable and singing the Glorias.
We all treasure scenes like this even though we know the reality has been photoshopped to make a nice greeting card picture. In truth, the first Christmas was not quiet and serene. Baby Jesus was a normal human infant who really did cry.
Those of us who are parents know the truth. And even if you aren’t parents yourselves, your parents know the truth. A child changes everything. The whole focus and purpose of your life is changed forever, when a child enters the picture.
The little town of Bethlehem was so crowded that Mary and Joseph had to stay in the shed with the cows and goats. It was so crowded that they had to lay baby Jesus in the feed box. God came to earth and and people said there was no room for him. But, God came anyway. God loves us that much. This child changes everything.
There are those among us who think it is a nice pretty story, but that's all it is. They think Christmas is just a time for get-togethers with family and friends, exchanging presents, and sharing old stories. They like having a day off work.
If you fall into this category and you came to church tonight because it made someone in your family happy, you are welcome here. We are glad you came.
There are others who do not want to bother with Christmas celebrations because they have given up on God. Perhaps you are one of those people. If you came to church tonight, we are glad you are here.
Or maybe you are a faithful Christian, but you know somebody like that. Somebody whose life has been hard, somebody who has tried to pray, but hasn’t seemed to get any good answers. Somebody who has been rejected by their family or rejected by society, somebody who just can’t seem to get a break. Somebody who has been forgotten by society.
There are some who don’t feel that way all the time. You just have some of those days and times where you felt isolated, like you are in your own painful spiritual wilderness.
In the time of Jesus, shepherds fell into that isolated, given up on God category. They were the kind of people came from the bottom of the social ladder. They were the ones who took the only job they could get - the dangerous night shift watching a bunch of stinky sheep when there were wolves lurking in the darkness. Shepherds were the ones who were stereotyped as liars and degenerates and thieves. Their testimony wasn’t admissible in court. Many towns wouldn’t even let them into the city limits.
They were considered ritually unclean, and, like tax collectors and prostitutes, shepherds couldn’t worship in the temple. So, if you were a shepherd, you had a job that separated you from the worshipping community. You were among the folks who had given up on God or felt God had given up on you.
But, this child changes everything. The good news of the angels doesn’t come to Caesar or Quirinius or even to the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem. The good news of great joy comes to the shepherds in the fields.
You see, not only does this child change everything - he is born to the people who need him the most. His birth is announced to the people that were least expected to hear it. His birth is announced to people who were despised and rejected. They were the ones that the prophet said were living in a land of deep darkness. And the focus and purpose of all life is changed forever.
This child changes everything. He even changes how we mark time, how we tell what year this is. Historians tell us that Herod died in 4 BC, so the original calendar makers didn’t get the dates quite right, but that’s not even important. And God comes to people who don’t always get things right.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that this child has all authority and his authority continues to grow. He is the one who will bring endless peace and justice and righteousness.
This child changes everything. He changed the world in his time. His birth, his death, his resurrection, changed everything forever. He conquered sin and death for us. He brings us our salvation.
So we sing our Christmas carols and we celebrate the birth of the Child today.
We remember that Jesus was born for the outsiders as well as for the religious people.
Remember the thief on the cross who repented? Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Remember the other thief? The one who harassed Jesus and bullied him? Jesus hung with him and died with him, and for him, too. Jesus was born for you even if you have given up on God.
Just as God sent the angels to the shepherds - God sends the message of the birth of a Savior to everyone tonight. You are here. You have heard it. There is a place for every one at the manger. No matter who you are or what you do - we are all part of the scene at the nativity tonight.
Let us go with the shepherds and proclaim the news to all the world.
Alleluia! Christ is born today! Amen.