Christmas Eve/Year B December 24, 2017
Luther Memorial Church Seattle, WA
The Rev. Julie Hutson
Isaiah 9: 2-7 + Titus 2: 11-14 + Luke 2: 1-20
Your bulletin cover this evening is a compilation of photos from our recent Christmas pageant, put on by our Sunday School students. This particular telling of the story came from the point of view of four angels whom God had entrusted with carrying out all of the tasks necessary Jesus to be born. Mary would need to be told of what God was asking of her. Joseph would have to be convinced to go along. The shepherds in the fields with all manner of stuffed animal sheep would be the first to hear the news from the angels.
If you missed the pageant here, maybe you saw the story at the movie theatre. This season saw the Nativity story in a feature film, told from the perspective of a donkey, a sheep, and a dove who find themselves in, as the trailer put it, the greatest story ever told. I didn’t see that film, so I can’t compare it to our very talented real life storytellers here.
We all know the characters in the story, though, no matter who is doing the story telling. Gabriel, whose task it is to bear the news to Mary and to Joseph; Mary, who was willing to undertake with courage and bravery a task that would turn the world upside down; Joseph, her fiancée, who must have had doubts and yet went ahead and took his pregnant fiancée with him to be registered. Angels sent to herald the news and shepherds in the fields who heard them and then went to find the babe.
Whether you are watching the story as a pageant, viewing a movie, or imagining it in your mind’s eye….most of us hold this as the holiest of stories. And it is. Not because it is gentle and shiny, but Holy because it is set apart. Holy because it is the story that writes God into the story of mortals.
But we imagine it, perhaps because it is almost always portrayed this way, as a story of great beauty. Of a hushed, silent night. Of angels singing in the skies news that the world had long awaited. Of curious, gentle shepherds out there in the fields. Of his mother, gentle and mild, as she is sometimes called, smiling down at a sleeping newborn. Joseph looks on, satisfied by the scene, ever vigilant. Somewhere, out along the edges are the magi, pondering a star and gathering their gifts.
If we read and hear more closely, with new ears, though, we discover that we are witnessing a story that is not an easy one. God did not choose to come among us in picture perfect ways.
Joseph and Mary are journeying to Bethlehem from their home in Nazareth because an abusive and oppressive regime has required them to go to be enrolled. To be counted. He leaves home and carpenter shop and will not return for many years, as he and Mary will later find it necessary to flee from that same administration in order to save the life of their infant son.
Their lives together begin in a rocky and perilous way. Mary is pregnant, unmarried, and Joseph knows the child is not his. In these times, a sin of this magnitude could have cost Mary her life. And if she was spared that punishment, it would have at the very least been a disgrace to both families. And to Joseph. So let’s not discount the doubts he must have had and the boldness it must have taken for Mary to stick by the extraordinary story the angel had told him in his dream. That the child was the son of God.
Eventually, after arriving in the little town of Bethlehem, they find that there isn’t room for them there. Somehow, in the chaos of a registration, every place they might have found shelter is full. Or perhaps it is simply unavailable to people in their situation. Maybe the innkeepers and the townspeople think that if they’d made better choices and just pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps they wouldn’t find themselves in this situation. And they shut their doors.
And then there are those shepherds….one would imagine that the angels would bring the news of the birth of the Messiah to the very centers of power in the world and instead they burst above the heads of the lowliest sorts of folks. As our kids said in the pageant, if they’d had any other skills, they wouldn’t be shepherds. It was a job for those whose friends and neighbors and teachers thought couldn’t do anything else. “That Ishamael will never amount to anything. You know he’ll probably just be a shepherd if he doesn’t get his act together.” Yet it is to those shepherds that the angels are sent. It is to those cast aside folks that they tell the news. Unto you this day is born a Savior. Christ the Lord. Unto you, shepherds. The angel didn’t say “A savior has been born for the wealthy 1%; pass it on.” The angel said “unto you is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And the shepherds run to find him.
I don’t point these things out to you to ruin the Christmas story for you. Rather, I hope that you will hear the good news….the best news….that the God who created the earth and the heavens, out of great love for all that God had made, came into the world to bring justice and love; mercy and grace. God did not choose to enter the world through the palaces of the powerful, but instead chose the forgotten, the marginalized, the outcast, and the displaced to enflesh the story. And that must have been terrifying, just as the story said. To the outcast and ignored, the news is emblazoned across the heavens. To a shunned young woman and a carpenter displaced from home, God comes. God doesn’t just appear in a blaze of glory, God is born in a messy birth, pushed out of the body of a woman…just as we all were.
The whole story is messy. It’s not pretty. But it is beautiful.
It is the beautiful story of a God who lifts up the meek….who feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty. It is the beautiful story of a God who so prefers the poor and outcast that that is where the story of Jesus begins.
God chooses vulnerability over power. God seeks out the doubter, the grieving, the overlooked and lifts them up, looking on them with favor.
Beloved people of God….this beautiful story comes to all of us. No matter what burdens you are shepherding. No matter the reason you cannot find a song to sing. No matter the grief you carry….or the doubts or the pain or the disappointment or the worry…no matter the way you have been displaced in the world….no matter the complexity of your journey….hear this good news.
Fear Not. Unto you…unto you… is born this day, in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Unto you…dear ones.
Thanks be to God. Amen.