Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It happened about nine months before Jesus was born—an angel visited Mary and told her that the prophecy of the Messiah was about to be fulfilled. The angel said that Mary would give birth to a child she was to name Jesus, that he would be great, and called the Son of the Most High. The angel said her son would be given the throne of David, and reign over the house of Jacob forever, that his kingdom would have no end.
It took a little convincing, but Mary believed the word of the angel, and she accepted the role of mother to the Son of God.
When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, her joy was overflowing. She knew that things could only get better, because the savior of all the people was to be born—from her! She burst forth with praise for God, speaking of the great things to come from Jesus, making right all that was broken in society, scattering the proud and bringing down the powerful, raising up the humble. She spoke of filling the hungry with good things and letting the rich go off on their own. The glory of promise filled her with expectations of wonderful things to come through the birth of her son.
But then Joseph didn’t see things quite the same way. Apparently the angel had neglected to tell him that Mary was the one chosen to bring about the virgin birth… and Joseph was understandably disappointed. Mary’s explanation must have sounded like a sorry excuse… until Joseph had his own vision.
Imagine that: two people about to be married, and not able to trust one another to be telling the truth!
Sadly, that’s not uncommon at all. Maybe even less so in a time when marriages were more likely to be arranged than to be chosen by the two entering into them. Think about it, though. Joseph, ready to take a young girl, a virgin, as his wife, finds out that she’s pregnant. He probably feels betrayed, but he doesn’t want to add to her problems. He wants to break things off quietly. Mary, all excited about giving birth to the child of God miraculously conceived in her, finds out that Joseph is unwilling to accept her and the child. It’s not at all what they expected.
Finally, though, they get that all straightened out, because Joseph has that vision from God, so he realizes Mary had been not only faithful, but truthful, and he, too, accepts the challenge of being father to a baby he did not actually sire. So things can work out okay…
And then the government gets involved. Well, they don’t actually get involved, they just make things harder. That Roman government is concerned that it is not receiving as much revenue as it should from the people of Israel. So, Caesar Augustus orders that all Israel gather according to clan—according to family, in the cities from which they’ve descended, so all can be counted.
It doesn’t seem so bad to Joseph and Mary. Bethlehem’s not that far, and maybe they’ve kind of always wanted to go there, to see the City of David. But when they get there, it’s awful! There are people everywhere. There isn’t room for everyone. All the inns are jam-packed, and some are probably even camping in the streets…
But that just won’t work for Joseph and Mary. No way will she be forced to expose herself to all the world upon the streets as the baby Jesus enters the world. I’m thinking they foster some hope that someone will see her condition and make an exception, and squeeze them into some small room somewhere.
But it doesn’t happen. There is no room anywhere. When some kind soul finally has some compassion and offers shelter where the animals feed, they’re ready to succumb to desperation.
Have you ever been there? Have you gone through times when nothing seemed to go right? If so, you’re in good company, because things didn’t go so right for Jesus, either, and he’s the son of God…
Sometimes things are great. Sometimes they go just as planned. At other times, not so much. Just the other day I heard of some people stuck in San Francisco for a couple extra days, not able to make it to this area for Christmas unless someone drives down to St. Paul to pick them up, which someone is now planning to do. I’m sure the Russian Ambassador to Turkey didn’t plan to be assassinated while giving a speech the other day, and Russia didn’t plan for him to die. And the guy running back into a burning house to try to rescue his ninety-five-year-old mother probably didn’t expect that neither one of them would survive.
But it’s Christmas! Where’s the good news?
It’s so fun this time of year to watch all those Christmas specials where it seems that everything works out in the end. Christmas Village survives, or Santa’s mission to reach all the children succeeds, or some curmudgeon finally discovers the true meaning of Christmas. We watch all those kinds of things and we expect Christmas to be a magic time when good things happen—even if they can’t happen at any other time of the year.
And sure, sometimes people plan for special things to happen at Christmastime. Some people get engaged at Christmas. Some get married over the holidays. But it’s not all happy for everyone.
Jesus comes, though, for everyone—even for those times when the magic all those specials lead us to expect doesn’t happen, when things seem unbelievably dark.
No matter where we are in this world today, God comes to us. God comes if things are dark and dreary, and also if they’re shiny and bright. God may come in ways entirely unexpected, like the baby born to a virgin and laid in a manger rather than as a child of a king housed in a palace. Sometimes, we may not even recognize the ways in which God is working among us. We won’t have the television sparkles to tell us that something magic is happening.
Instead, we live in the promise. We listen to people like the shepherds, who told the unbelievable story of angels telling the unbelievable story the savior born in the city of David and laid in a manger. We live in the promise of people loving people whom others find unlovable. We live in the promise of standing firm for what is good and right, especially when those things are most threatened.
To you is born this night in the city of David a Savior. That savior lay in a feeding trough as a baby. Later, he stood for the oppressed, and then died on a cross. Jesus stands for us; he lives again for us!
Daily expectations may not always match what actually happens, but through it all, God is with us. In Jesus, God lives with us. As Holy Spirit, God works in us. Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Always, no matter what our expectations, we live in the promise of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. Amen