Luke 2:1-20 NRSV
In those days a decree went out from Caesar 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 in the guest room.
Now in that same 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, and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.
Mark 15:33-39 CEB
From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”
It’s an odd thing to be here on Christmas Eve and to share Luke’s narrative of Jesus' birth and Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ death. During this whole season of Advent, we have been journeying along with Mark, the gospel without any kind of birth narrative. Meanwhile, in Luke’s narrative, the angels announce at his birth that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, the Son of God! Mark briefly mentions it at the start of the gospel, but Jesus is not named as the Son of God until his moment on the cross, and even then, the announcement does not come from angels but from the human mouth of a Roman soldier. Jesus has another name, Immanuel, “God is with Us” (Isaiah 7:14 NRSV). Luke’s gospel and Mark’s gospel meet at this point, to show us what the gift of God with us really looks like. We have a God who entered our world, into our midst, into human life and experienced all of it with us. From cradle to cross, Jesus experienced the whole of our human life in order to prove to us that God is always present with us, tonight and tomorrow and forever.
On Christmas Eve, we often read the passages from Luke and we anticipate the birth of Christ into our world all over again, but we can forget what happens to this babe in the manger. In scripture, we only see Jesus twice more between birth and adulthood, once when he is a toddler and the Magi pay him and Mary a visit, and the other time when he is twelve when he wanders away from Joseph and Mary to spend time in the temple. There is a full thirty years that pass until Jesus appears on the scene to start his ministry, thirty years of human experience. Imagine what has happened in your life in the past three decades. What have you seen? What joys have you experienced and what sorrows? Think of the big things that have happened to you as well as the mundane.
Jesus entered our human story and shared in it. If everything ended at the Christmas story of Luke, things would be incomplete, “for humans are not only born but grow up, know joys and struggles, and eventually die.” Mark’s gospel reminds us that the power of the incarnation is that God walked through all “triumphs and tragedies of life.” I am sure there were days when Jesus laughed, cried, got frustrated, and even annoyed. He had days that didn’t look too different from our own. Can you imagine him going about an average day? Maybe getting up in the morning, hungry for some breakfast, and maybe he’s humming a tune from a song he heard in town the other day and he can’t quite get it out of his head. There he is helping Joseph with a building project, putting the stones down for a new house, and when he lays the cornerstone he thinks of an idea, something that he’ll share someday down the road… At the end of the day, his muscles groan, and he can’t wait to get home and have the fresh bread that his mother made earlier with the other women of the town. When he lays his head down at night, maybe thoughts are circling through his head that makes it hard to fall asleep. Do you think he dreams or even has nightmares?
Maybe this sounds sacrilegious, but sometimes we can in seeing Jesus as divine forget that he walked as a human being through our world. He experienced much of what we did, including joy, happiness, pain, suffering, and death. Mark’s account of Jesus finds Emmanuel not in some crib but in his life and ministry. It was there in the people he cared for and the souls he had compassion upon. It was in his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. It's there in breaking bread with disciples, noticing the powerless, and challenging the powerful of his day. It was there in his stories and his healings. In all these different ways, Jesus showed people that God was with them. He proved himself as Emmanuel, not in any title he claimed, but in how he lived his life and gave his life.
Jesus in Mark refuses to be called the Messiah and forbids people from saying it, and in Mark, he is only referred to as God’s Son three times. Historically, the Son of God is a title reserved for kings of Israel, as when God tells David, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7:14 NRSV), but Mark uses these moments where Jesus is called the Son of God differently. Here it is less a royal title and more a moment where God breaks down the barriers that separate the divine from the human, just as God has done in Christ. There at the Baptism, God rends apart the heavens, “revealing that the one who stood dripping wet there in the Jordan River was somehow God’s very presence.” Again on the mountain, God descends and bathes Jesus in his glory, the glory of God right here on earth, and says again, this is my Son! The final declaration does not come from God’s lips but from a Roman soldier, but look at what happens before those final words. The temple curtain is torn apart, the one that separates the inner holy of holies, where God dwells, from the rest of us, in all our humanity. God is no longer separated from humanity because our God has experienced the fullness of what it means to be human.
There on the cross, Jesus suffers and dies, and after seeing what this man has done, a Roman soldier declares, “‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” These words bring us full circle, from his beginning – whether his birth in Luke or baptism in Mark – where God declares his Sonship; “it is now proclaimed at his crucifixion at the end (upon earth).” Mark declares that God is with us upon the cross, this is Mark’s cradle, and this is where Jesus proves that he is Emmanuel. On this Christmas Eve, we recognize that our God is not separate from creation, and cannot be separate from us, God’s own children. God became one of us, lived as us, and suffered the pain and loneliness of death. By experiencing everything that humanity experiences, God proves that God is always with us through everything.
That’s the thing, we recognize something special in Jesus, the way he transformed lives and changed this world through his acts of love and compassion. He did this while he was still human, still like all of us. Now, Jesus did not experience everything that everyone has ever experienced, for instance, he did not have to worry about retirement and he could never have known pregnancy or child-birth, but he does know what it is to be human, to face all that we face and still be God’s presence with us when and where we need it most. Jesus becomes for us this blank template that we can put our humanity onto, we can say, “Jesus could have experienced this!” That’s what Mark is doing for us, Mark takes us all by the hand, “leads us to the cross, and points, saying, ‘There. There is God.’” There’s power in that, there’s hope beyond all hope in that moment. Our God, the Alpha and the Omega, the creator of all we behold and touch, knows intimately what it is to be one of us. God did this because God loves us, so much that our Lord would be willing to become as weak as a baby to enter all this mess because at the core of it, “God thinks humankind and the whole creation so good, so beautiful, so precious in its intention and its potentiality, [...] its fulfillment, its redemption is worth dying for.” We are so loved that God enters our reality, closing the distance, tearing apart the barriers to tangibly love us by healing us, comforting us, and bringing hope to us all.
Now, we come to this moment, this eve, where Christ is being born again, but not necessarily in the manger from our nativity sets. Instead, Mark’s Christ is being born into all of us here this evening. That’s the thing, Jesus now turns to all of us and invites us to be God’s presence, God’s tangible reality in this hurting and pain-filled world. How do I know this? I turn to Mark’s gospel again to Mark’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. The disciples come to Jesus saying that the people are hungry, and they want him to do something about it. (How true is that for many of us today? God, you do this thing for me!) Jesus responds, “‘You give them something to eat’” (Mark 6:37 NRSV). You do it! Feed the hungry! Share with the needy! Take care of the poor! Forgive and have mercy! Stand up for the powerless and the oppressed! Comfort the grieving! As Rev. Tracy Daub puts it, “Christ summons us to be his presence in the world so that others may know Emmanuel, that God is with them.” God is with us, and God invites us to be God’s presence for others.
This may sound impossible, but that’s the gift of Emmanuel. God is with us in all things. Remember, Jesus was human and did all of this, including going to the cross. If Jesus, human as he is, can be God’s presence for others, so can we with a little help from a God who has already promised to be by our side. Go from this place tonight and be the incarnate presence of God in this world in the lives of the people around you, through your care and love and mercy show them our Emmanuel. Amen.
 Tracy S. Daub, Holy Disruption: Discovering Advent in the Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2022),117.
 Ibid., 118.
 Ibid., 119.
 Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 6th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 116.
 Daub 2022, 121.
 Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 24.
 Daub 2022, 125.
Pastor Paul Grossman