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.
A lot of the time we feel like God is far away. Sometimes we’re glad for that because, honestly, we kind of want to be left alone. We have plenty to do without thinking about God. The kids need to go to basketball and cheerleading and Scouts. The deadline is Friday, the mortgage is almost due and mom’s having trouble with her nurses again. We’ve got enough on our plate without staring off into heaven looking for meaning when we know the world is really about cold, hard facts.
Sometimes we feel like there should be something more, but there doesn’t seem to be. When we lose a relative or a relationship or a job we feel this emptiness that doesn’t fit with the idea we heard long ago about a God who loves us deeply. Maybe we try talking to God and all we hear is silence, or we pray for a miracle and no healing comes.
Maybe you used to believe, but now we’re not sure. Maybe you’ve been sitting in the same pew or one that looks like it for thirty years, but the words just don’t have the impact they used to. The promises you learned when you were young seem so hard to believe now because the world is hard and the nights are long.
Maybe you want to believe but you’re carrying a burden that keeps you away from God. Maybe there’s something in your past you’re ashamed of. Maybe someone hurt you so badly you can’t let it go and the anger eats away at your soul. Or maybe somewhere along the line you got the message that Christianity is for good people, or successful people or straight people. Maybe someone told you you didn’t fit in, didn’t belong.
Sometimes the small words are the most important. Isaiah says, “To us a child is born.” He says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The angel tells the shepherds he is bringing, “Good news of great joy for all the people.” “To you,” not to the rich, the famous, the powerful, but to you, the ordinary, the struggling, the outcast…. “To you is born a savior.”
Jesus didn’t appear for the folks who have it all together. He didn’t come because heaven was boring and he wanted a change of scene. He didn’t come to reassure the folks in power that they were doing ok and that keeping people down was fine. Jesus came for us, for you. He came for everyone, and especially for those who sometimes feel like no one is on our side. The people who walked in darkness now see a great light.
There have been dark times this last year. Right across the bay a year ago two brave firefighters were murdered and two more were injured as they tried to do their job. Many people have lost jobs, lost family or lost relationships. Others have recently seen great light: a new job, a new baby, a deepening relationship.
In all the ups and downs, Jesus comes into our world, into our hearts to save us. To save us from despair and loneliness, to save us from complacency and self-satisfaction, to save us from spending our whole life chasing success instead of following love.
Jesus came to bridge the gap between God and the world. He came to show us a whole different side of God, a whole different side of power and of love. The story of Jesus is all about God stepping out of power, taking on our weakness and our trouble and jumping into the middle of everything hard about human life.
Even at his birth Jesus tears down boundaries. The radical move of becoming human wasn’t quite enough for Jesus. He chose to be born in a barn to parents who weren’t married yet. The rest of his life follows that pattern too. Jesus keeps reaching out to people who are on the outside, people who are looked down on, people who have to struggle to survive.
Jesus is a savior for everyone. Whatever is keeping you away from God, keeping you from feeling at peace, keeping you from being who you are meant to be, Jesus came to save you. That doesn’t always mean he’s going to take the burden off your shoulders, but he can transform it and transform you.
The illness isn’t cured, but the stress of care giving is redeemed by a deepened love for your mom. The job doesn’t change, but as you trust God’s love more you find space for joy in the small moments of your work. The relationship isn’t healed, but you find a way to let go, to lay down the burden of the past. The shepherds return from the stable to their work, not free from struggle, but free from struggling alone.
To us a child is born, for us a son is given. Good tidings of great joy for all people. Come to the stable and be renewed by the light of God’s love in the darkness. Thanks be to God.