Saturday, December 25, 2010

Blessings this Christmas Day!

May you be filled with joy this Christmas Day!

Here is my sermon from this morning, based on Luke 2:1-14(15-20):

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”

Something happened long ago, something so extraordinary it seemed ordinary at first:
The birth of a baby.
Only his parents knew how extraordinary this was at first.
No wise men came, no shepherds, no disciples, no adoring masses, no one was there but his parents.
The gospel writer tells us this baby was born in a stable; born not into wealth, not
into power, not into social status or aristocratic inheritance.
This baby, like so many tens of millions of babies then and now, entered life in obscurity and relative poverty.
The survival of this baby, like tens of millions of other babies then and now, was not so certain at first.
This baby was born out of wedlock, to Jewish parents living in a land occupied by a foreign power, the Roman Empire.
The mother was barely a teenager; her name was Miriam, or Mary. She was to have an arranged marriage with a man named Joseph, but she became pregnant – and not by him – before the wedding.
Her life was immediately in grave danger.
Joseph was a carpenter, and in those days carpenters made simple implements like wooden bowls and mallets. Carpenters like Joseph led a meager hand-to-mouth existence.
Joseph stuck by Mary when he didn’t have to. He could have had her stoned to death, but instead the two fled their hometown of Nazareth.
The gospel writer gives this a polite patina by saying they were going to Bethlehem to register for a census. Except that historians tell us there was no census. Mary and Joseph were probably fleeing scandal and the judgmental eyes of their relatives.
They had nowhere to go in Bethlehem; either there were no relatives in Bethlehem or none would take them in.
And so they had their baby in a stable – a barn.
There was absolutely nothing outwardly extraordinary about this birth.
Not at first.
Then, the gospel writer tells us, the angels started showing up.
And the angels didn’t come to kings or aristocrats. They came to shepherds in a field, at night.
Shepherds were an even lower class than carpenters. They lived outdoors, they lived with sheep, they smelled. And these particular shepherds had the night watch, the lowest of the low.
The angels came to the shepherds to tell them something extraordinary was happening. The birth of a baby in a stable, and this baby would be the messiah, the one who would bring them salvation and freedom, the one they had been waiting for.
How could that be? This baby? Here?
The shepherds were terrified. We are but lowly shepherds, and look, over there, this baby is in a barn. This is not what we expect. This is very different.
But the shepherds went, and looked, and then they understood. They found the Anointed One, the Christ, lying in a hay trough.
They expected a king on a throne tossing off judgments like thunderbolts, but they got a healer who would lead a life of simplicity, prayer and truth.
They expected a God of war. They got the Prince of Peace.
The truth of the message of Jesus Christ can be heard right here, in the story of his birth. This messiah is different than anyone or anything the world expects. He comes to set people free in their lowest places, their lowest moments, to bring unconditional love and unlimited healing that lasts beyond this world.
What better way for God to tell us this than by coming to us in a helpless baby, born in the lowest caste?
The world of power and politics is turned upside down by this one birth. Everything is now different.
The story of Jesus – his birth, his life, his ministry and his death on the Cross begins this day. So does the story of Easter, and how Jesus after his death appeared to his followers and gave them strength and courage against all odds.

Christmas forms this great bookend with Easter, and truly the two must be seen together.
Those who first saw the Risen Christ of Easter continued to write this story in the way they lived afterwards. The first Christians called this new religion simply “The Way.”
Their story is also our story. We continue to write this story by the way we live our lives.
This way of life, this way of faith, is not just about the afterlife. It is about this life. It is about how we live right now, here, today and tomorrow.
This Christmas season, I would invite you to find ways to deepen your faith, to set aside a regular time each day for prayer, and to join a community of faith if you don’t have one.
If you live here in Charlottesville, and if any of this speaks to you, join us here at St. Paul’s. If you have been away from this church for a while, come back.
Join us and let’s explore this way of life and faith together in this loving caring community.

And then we have work to do, people feed, the sick to comfort, children to rear, and a hurting world that needs every single one of us.
This way of life will change you if you let it. This way of life will change everything in this world if we let it.
This way of life begins today with the birth of a baby long ago.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
May you have many blessings this Christmas Day and always. AMEN.

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