Luke 2:1-20 CEB
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.
Journeying through Advent into Christmas, we revisit the familiar story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem so long ago. It is a familiar story with Mary and Joseph, a manager, angels, and shepherds, but this story still has the power to capture our attention year after year, as one of the most important and favorite stories in our Christian faith. Like all beloved stories, revisiting it does not diminish our love for it, but instead, we find new things that stand out to us each year. For me, when reading over this story again this year, I am struck by the part where “Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully.” We are told the “shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,” but that Mary pondered all that had happened. She certainly had a lot to think about after all! Angels had visited her and Joseph, as well as her cousin Elizabeth. She had heard prophecies and sang out songs glorifying God! Now, in the quiet of the night after being visited by some rough shepherds, she and Joseph are left with a small babe. We share in this, after all the weeks of Advent and wonderful carols, the decorations, and the presents, we are left with cleaning up and pondering. The wait for Jesus is over, what now?
The Christmas season is something we anticipate, prepare for, and unfortunately speed right through. Before we know it, Christmas arrives and ends. We are left looking around the house at the tree that needs to be taken down, the lights that need to be put up, and the decorations that need to be stowed away. It feels like things end before they really even begin. I wonder if Mary felt the same. Can you imagine anyone who has had a busier nine months? She gets visited by an angel, Gabriel, who tells her that not only will she become pregnant, but that this baby will not just be any other child but the son of God. She goes to meet her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, who recognizes her unborn child for who he will be, the messiah! Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, declares in praise that his own son will prepare the way for this coming Christ child! Now finally, after journeying to Bethelhem, finding a moment of privacy in a stable to give birth to her child, she is now greeted by a group of shepherds who tell her that angels came to them to tell them to come and find and worship this savior, her baby boy. Now, here she is, alone at last with Joseph and Jesus. She is left with her thoughts, and I wonder if she also felt like all the waiting and anticipating was over before it began.
I feel like waiting is not something we necessarily like to do as people or as a church. You can see this in anyone stuck in a traffic jam or in a long line. You can also see a lack of waiting in the church calendar. We wait for a month for Jesus to be born, and then we only have about twelve days of Christmas before that ends. In just a few Sundays, we will be celebrating the baptism of Jesus which kicks off his ministry when he is thirty! The scriptures do not help either, as we hear of his birth in Matthew and Luke, but after a quick mention of Jesus at the age of twelve, he does not appear again until he is an adult. All too quickly in our church lives and in our Bible Jesus moves from baby to adult, and we neglect the fact that on that night so long ago Mary and Joseph began to wait. The savior has been born, hallelujah, but it takes time before he begins his ministry. What happens during that time matters for us on this Christmas eve.
You see, Mary ponders, but instead of just celebrating, she and Joseph prepare to raise a child. After all the pomp and promise, it will take thirty years before this dream, this promised child will grow into his own and begin his ministry. To begin with, Jesus was not a supernatural baby. Jesus was a baby like any other, one who cried when he was hungry, had dirty diapers and needed to be burped. Jesus may have been a collicky baby. He probably kept his parents up at night with cries and fussiness, no matter what Silent Night would like to tell us! Jesus had to learn to walk and talk. He probably fell and skinned his knees as a child. It took work and years to raise Jesus from the baby in the manger to the Messiah. I believe these thoughts jumped into my head when thinking about tonight because my own daughter, Sophie, just celebrated her first birth just a couple weeks ago. My wife, Caitlin, and I are only one year in, and it has been a lot of work to get even this far. It will take a lot more work to get her from here to 18, let alone 30! While the shepherds returned to their homes after celebrating, Mary and Joseph began the hard work of raising a child. After all the prophecies and praises from Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna and after all the gifts of the Magi, it was Mary and Joseph who worked to make these promises a reality.
My friends, it is Christmas Eve, the wait is over, but things do not simply end for another year, this is only the beginning. Christ has come, is coming, and will come again. Even after we put away the tree and greens and the lights here in the sanctuary and even after the banners of hope, peace, joy, and love are taken down, I hope we do not forget Christmas. I hope we go home and we ponder the words we have heard during Advent and here tonight, and I hope we do not just celebrate and then go crawl into bed to sleep things off and not think about the holiday until next year. I hope we wake up tomorrow morning and every day after, ready to realize the promise of Christmas. Hope, peace, joy, and love are not just nice sentiments, but they are the business of the church and the business of all of us who profess to be followers of that babe from so many Christmas nights, so long ago. Our business is to roll up our sleeves and work to make what we hope for a reality. That our talks of peace become the first steps of making everlasting peace. That when we speak of the love for neighbor, those words take root in our hearts and until we are bursting at the seams with love for God and love for one another! I hope that instead of pursuing temporary happiness we will find more than enough here in this child, on this day of promise to give us joy forevermore!
In becoming human, Jesus entered this world as a vulnerable child who needed care and love and support to become our Savior. In being born in a Bethlehem stable, we are reminded of how humbly our king entered this world. Jesus became something small, something humble, something dependent on another for survival and to thrive. What about our dreams of a world where peace, joy, love, and hope flourish? They may start out small. Maybe they are hard to see and find, like a tiny babe being born in a tiny corner of the world. This baby will one day become the Christ, will one day show us all how to love and follow God fully. This babe, who has been loved and cared for by his parents, will show us what it means to show love and care for friend, neighbor, stranger and enemy alike. Right now, these words that we hope will become a reality might just seem like phrases tacked up on banners, but this Christmas season reminds us all that they can be so much more. Our dreams of peace, joy, and love need care and support to become more than hopes. My friends, everything from that first Christmas Eve onward has been pointed toward a day when these dreams are not just dreams but a reality. Everything points to that day where Christ is, where hope, peace, joy, and love are not just things we are waiting for but the reality of living in the light radiantly shining from that babe named Jesus. Friends, the wait is over! The beginning is here! Let us join with Mary and Joseph and with Jesus to make this promise of Christmas a reality in our lives and in our world today. Amen.
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Pastor Paul Grossman