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Christmas Eve 2019

Dec 22, 2019

Passage: Luke 2:1-20

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Christmas

Category: Christmas

Detail:

Sermon for Christmas Eve (Year A - 2019)
December 24th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

Isaiah 9:2-7        Titus 2:11-14        Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

 

(a word of thanks) 

And now to the message at hand! One of the things that I think it’s easy to overlook at Christmas time is the power of the Gospel message of Christ’s birth. The birth of Jesus is one of the most familiar stories in the world, and I think it has rightly take its place among the popular messages we hear around this time each year. I don’t know about you, but it almost doesn’t seem like Christmas can arrive until the Charlie Brown Christmas special has aired and we once again hear Linus very calmly tell Charlie Brown that he knows the true message of Christmas. But there’s something that’s easy to overlook when we hear the story of shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night. What we overlook is that the story of Christmas was written on the other side of the resurrection: when Luke’s Gospel was written, it was written from the perspective of someone who already knew that Jesus had risen from the dead. So the resurrection story is very much at work in the story of Jesus’ birth. And if we’re willing to see the story of Jesus’ birth through the lens of the resurrection, then we might be surprised to find how similar the two are and how the good news of Jesus’ birth is essentially a foreshadowing of the good news of his resurrection. 

Consider the beginning of the story of Jesus’ birth as Luke’s Gospel tells it: it begins with Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem because Joseph was descended from the line of King David. Much later, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, he was hailed as a king; as the son of David. So both stories begin with a recognition that Jesus is of kingly descent. But his lineage does not seem to matter much to anyone. In the story of Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, there is nowhere for them to stay. You might even say that they are turned away because even though Jesus’ family was of David’s line, no one would recognize who they were. So instead of a crib fit for a prince, he was placed in a manger - a food trough made from roughly hewn timber. In the same way, when Jesus came to Jerusalem, he was rejected and scorned. And instead of being placed on a throne, he was nailed to a cross made from roughly hewn timber. 

But far from these stories being sad news, both are proclaimed as a triumph of God’s power and glory. In both cases, the initial messengers of the good news are odd choices. At Jesus’ birth, it’s a group of shepherds; hardly the kind of people we’d expect to be chosen first. Shepherds at that time were not highly regarded, so when we hear that the angels told them about Jesus’ birth, we should not think that angels announced the birth of the messiah to people wearing bathrobes and living in idyllic simplicity. Rather God chose some of the lowliest, roughest, and least respected members of society to be the bearers of the good news. In the same way, the news of Jesus’ resurrection was first announced to a group of women - and in first century Palestine, women would not have been considered any better than shepherds. So in both stories, those considered least worthy were the first to hear the message. 

Popular images of nativity scenes depict Jesus as being born in a barn or a cattle shed, but the reality is that the animal shelter Jesus was born in was more likely a shallow cave. So the arrival of the Son of God takes place in a cave. And just so, years later, the resurrection of the Son of God took place in a cave. 

You see! The parallels are there if we’re willing to look for them! And the reason I think it’s worth paying attention to the parallels is so that we can remember what we’re celebrating at Christmas. Because while the birth of a baby is certainly a joyous and happy thing, it’s not just that we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth at Christmas time. We’re also celebrating the reason that Jesus was born in the first place. And though I hope it won’t sound too morbid, we believe that Jesus took our human nature in order to live and die as one of us; so that through his resurrection we might share in eternal life. 

I have to say here that the message of Christmas is more striking to me this year than it ever has been. Because even with all of the joy that comes with celebrating new life, nothing can remind us of mortality and the fragility of life quite like the birth of a child. All of us who were born into this world, sooner or later, must one day face the reality of death. And that can be a frightening reality. I know that it is for me as a first time parent. But Christmas brings with it the message of hope and the message that we should not be afraid. No matter what has befallen us, and no matter what yet may befall us. We still have reason to rejoice. 

Over the past few days, I have marveled at my infant son and delighted in everything that he does. One of the things that I’m taken with is how he makes sounds when he’s sleeping. It’s a sort of gentle murmuring that he does right before he wakes up, and it sort of sounds like “ha-aa-laa.” We might tend to call it cooing, but there’s actually a better name for it that comes from middle-eastern culture. It’s called hallel-ing, and as you might guess, the word at the root of that word is Alleluia. In middle-eastern cultures, the idea is that babies are born glorifying God, and their “hallel-ing” is their way of singing praise and giving thanks to God. When I first heard about this “hallel-ing”, I was reminded of one of the phrases we use at funerals - “All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” So I like to think that my son was born into this world with a song of praise on his lips that will be with him until he draws his final breath in this world. 

And so for all of us. From the moment each one of us was born even until the time we die, we all make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. And the message of Christmas is that we have reason to make our song. The Son of God, the one through whom heaven and earth were made, was born into this world and took on our human nature. He took on our weakness and our fragility and bore the pain of this world in order to redeem it, to make it whole, and to give us hope that our own weakness and fragility will one day be redeemed. And so the message of Christmas carries with it the message of the resurrection: we have nothing to fear. God has come into the world to conquer death. And so we can rejoice.