Here’s my Christmas Eve sermon – enjoy!
Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve – Tuesday, December 24, 2013
St. Jacob’s-Spaders and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Pastor Evan Davis
“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till he appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
It is a blessed and holy night. A beautiful night, made more sweet by the sound of your voices singing these beautiful songs. Hymns that tell the gospel better than I can tonight.
Sometimes all we need to do is remember just how good this news, this Christmas story really is. It’s a story of two teenage kids, or perhaps early twenty-something kids (for yes, as a late twenty-something I can say “kid” might have described me well just a few years ago) – kids probably scared out of their minds as they faced down the reality that they were about to bring a child into this world.
As serene and holy as this night is for us, for the two of them, it was a bit more dicey. Mary, who, obviously, had the hard job, and Joseph, who was in waaay over his head. The two of them, with no clue how to do this. Pawns of an emperor’s whim, forced to leave home and travel an enormous distance just so the empire could figure out how much money and how many soldiers to take from the people of Galilee and Judea. Mary, just a poor Jewish girl from nowhere, on a journey for which she’d been chosen out of all women, wondering what it meant that her child would take the throne of David and his kingdom would have no end. Mary, bouncing perhaps on a camel’s back while very pregnant. Mary, forced to give birth alone, without sisters, aunts, or mother by her side, deprived of the assembled wisdom and skill of the women from her village. Joseph, a guy who wasn’t expecting this just yet, who couldn’t have imagined what he was getting into when he made those promises to Mary. No drugs, no monitors, no IV, no antiseptic, no bed, just a little, dark corner they found somewhere so Mary could have some privacy – maybe in a barn, for sure somewhere animals were fed from a manger as Luke records for us.
Wherever they were, there they took on the labor of bringing their holy child into this world. There they faced one of the most intense, edge-of-your-seat, heart-pounding, sweaty-palms experiences of human life. Some of you parents may recall being in a Labor & Delivery room, or maybe even in your house, giving birth yourself or coaching, guiding, or just keeping vigil outside. Were angel choirs singing? Chances are, Mary was not beautifully chanting a psalm while she pushed Jesus out of her body.
From the little I know, birth is always a miracle, and it is always a mess. It’s loud, it’s intense, and it’s…messy. Is there anything more human? more organic and raw and chaotic? It’s not practiced, it’s not in perfect four-part harmony, it’s not Christmas card worthy. But it is literally how God chose to enter the world.
The miracle is in the mess. God enters into our messy world, into the messiness of our lives, through the beautiful mess of human birth. God makes his entrance on the stage of human life not to our angelic melodies tonight but to the soundtrack of his mother’s screams, with Joseph gasping for air, speechless beside her. It was a desperate night when these two kids were pushed to their limits and beyond. “Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!”
Jesus enters a world that was and is on the brink. Pushed to its limits. As St. Paul timelessly writes, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Romans 8:22). Jesus came into a world screaming in labor – the cries of the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the oppressed, the mourning all falling upon deaf ears. Not even God’s people could hear them, for their own screams were too loud. But God heard, and as God responded to the cries of his people in bondage in Egypt, God responded again. But this time God sent not a middleman like Moses, but the Word that was in the beginning, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God came down and was made flesh. The perfect took on imperfection. The eternal took on mortality. The heavenly took on the messiness of human flesh-and-blood, and humanity was never the same.
We try so hard to make our Christmas perfect – to cover every detail, to make sure everyone is happy on Christmas morning. But hear this: the miracle is in the mess. What our faith teaches us is to look for a newborn God held desperately in the arms of an exhausted, sweaty mother reeling from labor, lying on cold dirt but glowing in the light, the warmth, the imperfect perfection of her child pressed against her body. We’re taught to look for God in the last place we’d look: in a child, not an elder, who teaches in the temple. In a rabbi who breaks the rules. In a holy man who breaks bread with sinners.
The radical and unique claim of the Christian faith is that the miracle is in the mess. That Mary could rock God in her arms, that Joseph could lay a blanket over God lying in a horse’s trough, that God was as vulnerable to disease and cold as any baby, as vulnerable to anger and envy as any child, as vulnerable to hatred, oppression, and injustice as any one of us, and finally to whips, nails, and an old rugged cross.
The miracle is that our faith is ultimately not about a list of rules, not about achieving a state of personal perfection, not about how holy we can make our worship tonight. It is about our jaws hitting the floor as we behold God in the flesh. Our faith is about a person, a baby who cried and made messes for his parents to clean up, who grew up to teach us what love means ultimately not with words but with his willingness to bear anything for you, his beloved.
O come and adore him, our God who gives himself to us in a manger, in a book, in a bath of clear water, in bread broken and wine poured. For as Titus tells us, the grace of God has appeared, and it is lying right before you.
May we bask in the miracle hidden in the mess of humanity. For here is your God who has traveled far to find you – human face to human face. Look into the eyes of this child, eyes that are just beginning to see, yet eyes that have known you from the foundation of the universe. The grace and peace of the Word made flesh be with you on this holy night. Amen.