Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And 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!” 15When 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.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
May I wish you a merry Christmas? Some might react with a gasp, because they equate merriment with an overindulgence in intoxicating substances. I’d rather we don’t limit our language to one definition! Being merry is something much greater than modifying our experience with any kind of stuff!
But not everything is merry this Christmas… could it be?
Yesterday, someone shared a quote that asked what had 15 actors, two writers, and one plot? The answer was 632 Christmas movies of a certain brand I’d rather not name in this message… J There’s some truth to the makeup of nearly holiday every special having marked similarities with all the rest. Something bad happens, somehow it gets worse, until finally it all gets better at the end—and then it snows, to make things more Christmassy, even though the filming seems to be somewhere in southern California where all the trees are green. Good things are supposed to happen at Christmas.
But something rather tragic for a couple of local families happened yesterday. A tie-out or leash broke, and the dog attached to it at some point ran out into traffic, where it was hit by a car. A witness was able to hold the dog as it died, and that witness tried to notify the unknown owners on Facebook. You might know how people can be on Facebook, how they are often more apt to blame than to offer compassion. This is where we live.
We live in a world full of people, and all people experience brokenness in some form. And because we experience brokenness, we might find it rather easy to share that brokenness with others. Why shouldn’t all those other people know as much pain as we do?
But it’s Christmas! What happened to Peace on Earth, and Good Will among the people who live here?
There’s another story being shared by many, telling how many in the French, British, and German armies stopped fighting one another and chose to celebrate Christmas together in 1914. They did, however, resume fighting the next day. And I can’t forget that our own General Washington actually took advantage of the Christmas celebrations of the Hessian forces in order to attack the next day in 1776. Strategically it was smart, politically, maybe not so much, because it’s Christmas!
Last week, we advertised the Blue Christmas worship event provided by Bethel and Our Saviors, two of our sister congregations here in Superior. Some asked what that was all about. It’s provided because for some people, for many, Christmas might be rather difficult, because of the losses they’ve experienced within the past year (or any part of the past, really). I still remember the last Christmas that my mom came home from the hospital, but could not even stay through the night, and that was 1976! Must everyone pretend to be happy, just because it’s Christmas? What does “Joy to the World” mean, anyway?
According to the holiday specials it usually means presents, or some miraculous coming together of people separated by misunderstandings. …and just a little bit of snow! But we’ve probably had enough of that!
What is broken in this world today? Britain is struggling with Brexit. People the world over are trying to flee from poverty, violence, and hopelessness, in all kinds of places and ways. Our country’s politicians seem ever more partisan as we struggle through the process of impeachment, the third time such a thing has happened with a sitting president in the United States of America. (An additional one avoided the process by resigning.) Some of our people are praising the economy while others are wondering how to pay for their medications, or their rent, or needed assistance. Maybe there are some people for whom life is easy all the way around, but most of know what it feels like when things are broken.
It’s Christmas! Let’s hear the angels promise Joy!
Israel knew brokenness all those years ago when Jesus was born: The nation was occupied by a foreign power that insisted on a census of Israel by tribal identity, requiring all kinds of people to travel to the places of their family origins in order to be counted. Why would God choose such a time and such a place to enter into our lives in this way?
Why do you suppose God didn’t provide for Jesus to be born into a less chaotic time and place? Why choose to come when almost everyone had to travel, and the guest rooms would be filled beyond capacity? Why risk the life of a young unmarried virgin when strict adherence to the laws would call for her to be stoned once the pregnancy was revealed? Couldn’t God have chosen a less chaotic time and place and way for Jesus, the savior of the world, to be born?
Is there ever really a less chaotic time? Oh, I suppose one might argue for some historic time of peace that nostalgia paints with rosy glasses… like when the soldiers came home, never imagining PTSD and the havoc it could wreak.
Where is the joy of Christmas?
Here is the joy of Christmas:
The joy is in the fact that God doesn’t wait for us to get it right, for us to make peace, in order to send Jesus, our Savior, into a blessed joyous circle of light.
God doesn’t wait for the tragedy of the holiday special to be solved in order to come and light the tree with a few snowflakes falling in the background.
God doesn’t wait for us to discover the wonderful parts of our lives before reaching into the deepest and darkest broken places with the promise that we are not alone.
God doesn’t wait for us to be happy. God doesn’t wait for us to deserve something wonderful. God doesn’t wait for us to fix everything so that our bodies can be wonderful palaces in which Jesus can dwell here on earth.
God comes into the squalor of a crowded settlement and sleeps protected by the animals’ feeding tray. God comes into an occupied land with a jealous king who has minions who cannot think for themselves and act with honor rather than loyalty. (More about that on Sunday…) God comes because we need hope… and forgiveness… and light… right now!
Within all the little ways that we experience brokenness, God comes to dwell with us. Within all the big broken things of this world, God comes to dwell with us. The real miracle of this season is not held within the happy endings of holiday specials, it’s lived among us as we carry God’s joy and God’s promise despite anything that might go wrong!
Within our brokenness, God brings life, and hope, promise, and peace, casting out our sin and entering in… with joyous hope, that we may be merry, in Jesus’ name. Amen