2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined…. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Bible is a story about God reaching out to us. There are twists and turns along the way. Sometimes people welcome God’s care, other times we turn away. In the beginning, God made a man and woman to tend a garden and nurture a life connected to God. Before long, the couple was tricked into breaking God’s commandment and choosing independence over closeness with God. Later, out of all the families of the world God called Abraham and Sarah to be partners in God’s promise. Through wanderings and changes God kept his covenant with Abraham and his descendants.
When the people of Israel became slaves in Egypt, God sent Moses to lead the people out of bondage to freedom. Through desert wanderings, God taught the people rules to shape a faithful life together. Rules about worship and looking out for the stranger and the poor among them. In time the people came into the land God prepared for them, but soon desire and pride and the drive for power led them away from God.
God sent prophets and kings to call the people back. Sometimes those voices were welcomed, other times they were rejected and persecuted. When we’re honest with ourselves, we can understand why. There’s a part of each of us that wants to welcome God’s calling, welcome God’s love and concern for the most vulnerable. But there’s another part of us that thinks we know best, that wants to keep the biggest piece for ourself, that wants to be first and worries that opening ourselves to others will get us hurt.
God doesn’t give up on us. After centuries of twists and turns, closeness and rejection, God reached out to humankind in a truly unexpected way. God became flesh as a baby. A baby who was born in a stable in a holy land occupied by Roman power. God didn’t pick an easy year or an easy place. There were tensions among different Jewish groups, tensions with the Roman authorities, and a rising revolutionary movement.
On top of the big picture events that make the history books, Jesus was born into the middle of the usual stresses of life that no one ever reads about years later. Joseph and Mary were far from home and didn’t have a decent place to spend the night when the baby Jesus arrived.
Away from the spotlight of our story, on that night in Bethlehem normal life was going on too. Maybe the family next door to the inn was having an argument. A family down the road was about to lose their home to a creditor. Around the corner a young husband came home from a distant journey to a joyful reunion with his wife. Across the street another husband watched helplessly as his wife got sicker and weaker. An aging father wondered where his adult children were and whether he would ever see them again.
A baby cried, a donkey brayed, a camel scuffed its feel nervously. God came into the world unnoticed except by a few travelers on a dark night. The world changed and God got closer, but most people couldn’t tell the difference.
Today too, it’s easy to miss the signs of God’s presence. In the rush and whirl of the world we can forget God’s calling. We feel overwhelmed by the immediate demands of life, and when something like today’s shooting happens we can feel like the world is simply too much. It’s easy to feel far from God when we hear news of children or firefighters senselessly murdered. The world is hard to understand and often threatening.
But right in the middle of that fear and stress, anxiety, distraction and heartache we find God. God came to earth in human flesh so he could meet us exactly where we are. Jesus came to join us in the joys and sorrows of being human. He came to show us how to live and how to die. He came to show us the depths of God’s love for us and to bring us closer to God.
In a hospital room or at the kitchen table, in a prison cell, at a Christmas party at work or at church, God is right with us. Our struggles and our celebrations are not alien to God, because Christ has shared our life. In Christmas, Christ breaks into our everyday world. God’s light of love shines in the darkness of fear and doubt. The message of God’s love is for everyone; the angel’s words to the shepherds are for you and me too. To you is born a savior who is Christ, the Lord.
No matter where you have been this past year, God loves you deeply. No matter whether this is the first or the thousandth time you’ve stopped to listen for God’s message God wants to welcome you today. No matter what people have told you, no matter what secrets you have, no matter what burden of joy or shame or fear you’re carrying, God reaches out to you. Christ left heaven to share our life in all it’s messiness: that’s what Christmas is about.
Glory to God in the highest! And peace to all people on earth. Thanks be to God.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.