I'm cruising on the river of life, happy to trust the flow, enjoying the ride as I live into a new season of life and ministry as the Priest in Charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, MO. I am also co-founder of the Partnership for Renewal, a church vitality nonprofit. You are most welcome to visit my blog anytime and enjoy the ride with me. Peace.
Friday, December 24, 2021
Christmas Eve, 2021-C: What we are celebrating
Lectionary: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2: 1-20
En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en Unidad. Amen.
There’s a meme floating around social media of the Flintstones wearing Santa hats and celebrating in front of a decorated Christmas tree. The meme asks: “Seriously - what are they celebrating?”
It’s a fair question… even for us today. What are we celebrating?
At Christmas we celebrate that God took on human form in the person of Jesus, eliminating all that had separated us, and reconciling all humanity to God. This new relationship, a divine-human union, happened on that first Christmas and happens still today because as we said in Advent: Christ is coming. “Christ is always coming… always entering a troubled world, a wounded heart.” It’s an amazing thing, a miraculous event, and definitely something to celebrate.
Even with the pandemic happening all around us still (and God knows how tired we are of that!), we want to celebrate together. We want to worship, share holy Communion, and sing Christmas hymns. We want to eat good food, drink good wine, share stories, hugs, and build memories. We want to celebrate together as the beloved community of God!
So today, we gather in-person and online, to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. It’s a great story – the greatest one ever told, they say.
According to the Gospel writer, Joseph, who is descended from the house of David, must travel to Bethlehem to register in accordance with a decree from Caesar Augustus. Mary, who is engaged to Joseph, is pregnant and near delivery.
Ordinarily, travelers like Mary and Joseph would have stayed with family or friends who live in the area, but they arrive to find “there was no room for them at the inn.” We need to remember that in first-century Palestine, an inn was not a hotel. It was the guest room in a typical peasant house.
Some houses had upper rooms, like the one the disciples hid in after Jesus’ crucifixion. Most houses had lower rooms, rooms below the main living quarters where the animals were kept. Mary and Joseph were basically sent down to the basement where the animals were. Imagine having to give birth there.
It’s very likely that Mary and Joseph were being shunned by their family and friends who didn’t approve of Joseph showing up with his pregnant girlfriend. To them, Joseph was violating the law by staying with Mary, rather than putting her out and letting the community stone her to death for adultery.
People looking at Joseph and Mary saw sinners, but God saw partners in redemption. The sad part is, how many people continue to miss the miracle of Christ coming into a troubled world and wounded hearts because they’re too busy moralizing…?
The judgment of God, who is the only real moral authority – is (are you listening?) salvation for the whole world. And this salvation is in Jesus the Christ whose birth we celebrate today.
By taking on flesh Jesus linked heaven and earth, eternity and time, from ages past to this present moment,
reconciling us to himself and ensuring that everyone is included in God’s plan of salvation… the clean and the unclean, the Jew and Gentile, the saint and the sinner.
There are some people who would limit God’s grace only to those who deserve it (as they define that, of course). Well, the truth is, none of us deserves it, yet all of us receive it, because that is the nature of the extravagant love of God.
Luke affirms this in his telling of the Christmas story. The first to hear of the birth of the Messiah were some shepherds. It’s a peaceful, pastoral scene in our imagination: shepherds sitting under a star-filled sky keeping watch over their sheep.
We’re all fans of the shepherds, aren’t we? They were simple, hard-working, regular folk. We’re simple, hard-working, regular folk. We feel like we can identify with them… but we need to remember that in that time, “shepherding was a despised occupation…they were scorned as dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other [people’s] lands.” Shepherds also didn’t bathe much so they didn’t smell good; and this particular group of shepherds was the lowest of the low – the ones working the graveyard shift.
But God, who sees differently than the world does, chose these lowly shepherds to see the glory of the presence of God, which, Scripture tells us, shone all around them. God chose them to be the first to hear the angel’s proclamation of good news of great joy for all the people.
Today, we celebrate that we are the ones God is choosing to see the glory of the presence of God all around us. We are the ones God is choosing to be God’s partners in the plan of redemption.
We celebrate that the light of God’s love fills us to overflowing and, like those shepherds, we can’t help but share this good news of great joy. As Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “If you know how much God is in love with you, you can’t help but live your life radiating that love.”
Seriously, this is what we are celebrating.
The good news of Christmas is our present reality. It isn’t just an event in ancient history or a great story. Christ is being born in us again right now.
So, let’s celebrate that, singing out our praise: Glory to God in the highest heaven! For unto us is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord.