December 24, 2013
Christmas Eve Service
Grace and Peace to you this evening. Grace and Peace.
I recently saw a picture of a lovely nativity scene, complete with shepherds and wise men and Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. And the caption read, “We are each innkeepers – we each decide if there is room for Jesus.”
It got me to thinking about the various characters in our nativity scene. Now, in the Bible, the shepherds and the wise men never meet. They do not even share a Gospel together. And the wise men never come to a stable.
But this is not about how we mash the stories together for our nativity. This is about how we find ourselves in the story of God’s unfolding love.
Our story tonight in Luke starts with Caesar Augustus in Rome and Quirinius, governor of Syria. It begins out with an imperial command. In Matthew’s Gospel, it begins with Herod the King. And while the emperor and the governor do not take much notice of this new thing God is doing, Herod will. (But that is a story for this coming Sunday…)
Herod and Caesar and Quirinius are not in our nativity scene, they are the backdrop of the story. They are those whose concern is political and military and economic and keeping people in line, not how to live out the covenant of God, or how to be faithful, or the way that we will see Jesus talking about the kingdom of heaven and of righteousness.
By contrast, we have the magi, sometimes called wise men, sometimes called kings. They discover that something new is coming into the world, and they leave comfort and wealth and power to travel far away to see it for themselves. They do not know the stories of Abraham or Moses or David. They do not know the prophetic traditions of the Israelites. They never got to Sunday school or Bible study, but still, they show up. They know that this is where it is at.
And there is Joseph, a good and ethical man. He has worked hard, done the best he can, and gotten engaged to a lovely young woman. But life did not turn out the way he planned.
He knows he is not the father. He wants to break the engagement, but he doesn’t want to shame her, so he is going to do it quietly.
But then dreams. Visions. God is doing something that Joseph had not expected, had not planned on. And Mary and the baby will need Joseph. Joseph’s life and plans are interrupted by God, and when he tries to get them back on track, God interrupts again.
If Joseph’s life did not go as planned, imagine Mary. About to get married. About to move from her father’s house to her husband’s. But…an angel shows up. “Mary, this is what God has in store for you.”
But instead of taking this as an interruption, something to be gotten past or over or beyond, Mary takes it as a calling. She signs on. She says yes. And she does so not knowing what the full story will be, not knowing where the path will lead. But then again, do any of us know where life will lead after we say “yes?”
For the shepherds, this is just another work night. Business as usual. And then angels. Everyone from the priests in the temple to the shepherds themselves are surprised that God first sent angels to tell shepherds. But unlike Joseph, this interruption is not disturbing. It is good news, and they run to see if it is true.
So how has God found us?
Are we like Joseph, and that which will come to be our salvation starts off sounding like the worst news we could imagine?
Are we like shepherds, who run to see if it is true? This new possibility we never imagined before.
Maybe we are like the Magi. Wise in the planets and the signs, in science and math, but not so smart about politics or religion. Willing to leave comfort and wealth and security for what God is unfolding.
Maybe we sign on like Mary did, sure that this is the way, even though it is painful and difficult and confusing at times.
Because here is what we know about Jesus’ birth: It is going to turn the world on its head. It is going to turn lives around. As Simeon will say, He is destined for the rising and fall of many.
His words are going to shake the very foundations. His acts of grace are going to break down barriers and cast off shackles. His life will be a light to the world. His death will be the judgment of the world, a judgment not of condemnation, but of forgiveness.
I am not saying we need to be one or another of these characters, that one part is better than another. I am saying there is room for all of us: however eager or fearful we may be, however good or bad our history is, however faithful or doubtful we might feel, however ready for new life or reticent we are.
Because the love made real this night is going to be beyond all human understanding. A love known to us in one born in a humble stable, in a backwater town, to troubled parents, in an occupied country, who will humble himself to show that God has no designs on winning the human game on our terms, no longer wants to play the “counting sin” game, the judgment game, and has every design on lifting us to God’s way of doing things.
That’s the love that comes again this night. That’s the love that finds us each day.
For unto us a child is born. Unto us, new life is given.
And if we are each innkeepers, let us make room.
Thanks be to God.