What Were You Expecting? Christmas Eve 2016
Welcome everyone. This is the place to be on Christmas Eve, clearly. I want to welcome all those who are visiting tonight--those who have traveled from out of town, those who are coming home to celebrate with family... kids home from college...
To all the children who are here, dying to find out what's under the tree or what's on the way tonight...
And to those who aren't exactly church goers, who were dragged, coerced, bribed, guilt-tripped into coming to church tonight... I have a special welcome for you because you are my people. I know what it feels like, I've been there myself.
There was a time when I didn't believe in God, and I believed in less in church and church-y stuff. But once a year, I would find myself dragging in to church on Christmas Eve because my mom would make me feel guilty.
I have to tell you that even during that time in my life when I was not feeling the whole Christian thing, when I was wounded by the church, when I had zero desire to be in a church or even near a church... there was something that stirred in my heart when I found myself in church on Christmas Eve.
There is something about this story... this beautiful, amazing story.
I want you to think about this story with me tonight, but I want us to see it with some new eyes, perhaps. Because this story, the story of how God saved the world is not at all what most of us expect--it's so much more incredible, grace-filled and fantastic than any of our perfect nativities, our traditional ideals.
The reason why this story still stirred my heart when I wasn't really feeling God all that much is because it's the story of how God used the most unlikely people to reveal God's great plan of Salvation to on that night so long ago.
Joseph and Mary had to give birth in a stable--which was probably just the lower level of a guest house, where the animals were kept, not the lovely wooden things we have in our homes. It was like a cave, and there would have been strangers around them in other parts of the house. Mary gave birth without her mother, her aunties, a midwife who probably delivered her---a homeless refugee in a town where she knew no one.
And then there were the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, poor, dirty, no real social standing. Probably tending the flocks of sheep which produced the lambs for the Passover sacrifice in the Spring.
These are not the kinds of people that you would expect to have a major role in the story of a royal birth. But yet the language that is used in Luke's Gospel is royal language, the kind of things that were said about Caesar Augustus who is mentioned in the first part of the passage. It was often said about Caesar that he was the Prince of Peace, the Lord... On his birthday, proclamations were issued about Caesar that contained words to this effect, "Unto you is born this day... a Savior!"
There are no kings or rich people in this story. Only the poor, the marginalized, people who weren't good enough...
And the angel says to these people that they are favored by God. Favored by God. No one in their right mind would have thought any of the people in this story were favored by God. This is exactly what God wanted, though: to show that there was a new way of looking at the world. The first would be last, the last would first. Favor falls on those who are broken, wounded, hurt, left out, beyond hope...
When I dragged myself into church all those years ago when my faith felt gone, and my ability to believe had faded away... I felt something when I heard this story. I felt like IF God was really there, and IF this story was true... then it was pretty good news for someone like me.
We all long to hold on to the deeper truth of this story--the truth that grace is amazing and for everyone... including us.
What did you walk in here carrying with you today? A broken heart? A wounded spirit? Unbelief? Fear about the future? Or maybe you walked in full of hope, full of joy and expectation... I want everyone--no matter what you are feeling right now to hear my voice.
This good news, this story is for all of us. Because the favor of God is upon us all--the broken, the needy, the believing and unbelieving, the churched and the unchurched. All of us. The light that shown forth over the hills of Bethlehem shines upon us, in us and through us not only tonight but every moment from now until eternity.