December 24, 2017
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
“Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
With these words an angel announces to the first people outside the families of Joseph and Mary that something incredible is coming into being by the birth of a baby laying in a manger in an ancient equivalent of a barn in Bethlehem, a town which then could proudly proclaim King David was from here, but little else. What is occurring can only be topped by seeing how Jesus fulfilled that promised Christmas hope in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
There are many ways the Christmas birth brought by God is remarkable. The one that strikes me this year is how unlikely the choices for parents, first receivers of the news, and Jesus’ method of entry are.
Begin with Mary and Joseph. Until Jesus coming in several months is announced we know nothing about them about them that would make us predict centuries of renown. They are from Nazareth. That was such a noted town that when told that Jesus is from Nazareth, the future disciple Nathaniel will ask, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” If not good things, people knew the important things came from Jerusalem for religious observance and Rome for political obligation. Watching television and movies a foreigner could assume everything between Boston, New York and Washington on one end and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and to a lesser extent Seattle is an empty quarter with a few oasis, Chicago, Dallas, and Denver.
Getting past place Joseph has no real connections and Mary’s are limited. Joseph can say in some way he is a direct descendant of King David. But there had not been anyone politically the head of the Jewish people from that family since the kingdom of Judah ceased to be independent in 597 B.C.
It is true that Mary had relatives who were of priestly lineage. They were not of the important priestly families. They resided in a small city in the Judean hill country, not near the center of priestly influence, Jerusalem.
When Jesus ministered in his home town, people discounted his wisdom and power by saying, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” Matthew concludes “they took offense at him.”
God chooses a devout couple from a place like Singers Glen to give birth and raise our Savior and Lord. God is not bound by who one knows, what one does for a living, or where one is from to bring about his will, like people often are.
Then there are the shepherds. They are the first people outside the family to receive the news. They are not only shepherds, but they are the night shift shepherds. They are not owners. They are hired men and boys. If Jesus birth were announced the same way today it would be like an angel appearing to an office building janitorial crew.
How unlike our event conscious society is God’s way. We would prefer to guarantee as many as people as possible would know about it and could be there for the announcement. Even the small lawn parties in this area are on Fridays and Saturdays.
God goes to the odd person doing a needed routine task at an uncomfortable hour. By making such shepherds the first public recipients of the Savior’s birth God is showing how the gifts of this birth are for all people.
Third, and the most amazing of all, God enters our world as an infant. Once reflecting on seeing a baby in a hospital nursery, lying on her stomach (I know I’m dating myself) with her head to the side sleeping, I felt an assurance seeing that new human life. But I also was moved by how small, how very helpless, and how very dependent she was. Human babies even need help to breathe when born, transitioning from a liquid to a air dominated world. Then I realized that Almighty God chose to come, not in chariots of thunder, leading an armed host of angels to assert the divine will, but as a baby needing people like Mary and Joseph for nourishment, clothing, shelter, and protection. Believing yet limited people care for the holy deliverer. It is mind boggling.
We would struggle making such a decision. Once on internship at a psychiatric hospital we on the care team had quite a discussion. One of the residents wanted to collect and sell aluminum cans to raise money to place toys like games and some safe, small toys on the ward. Some saw it as more work for the staff. Most were concerned about doling out such responsibility to a resident patient. We were very aware of the mental and, in this case, the mental and physical capability gap between the requestor and us.
That GAP is nothing compared to the GAP between a human and God. Yet, God enters the world as one of us relying on us for care as the baby matures to all we come to see of Jesus in the Bible and then some. God choosing to enter our world as a dependent baby is truly remarkable.
During the few years of serving in the U.S. Navy I was part of a support group. We were talking about God and our relationship or lack thereof. One woman spoke briefly. She looked up a little with a dreamy gaze and said, “God, what a guy.”
Thinking about Christmas with the devout parents of humble origin, the announcement to late night hired shepherds, and Jesus’ coming as a needy baby I appreciatively find myself thinking, “What a God!” May we all celebrate Jesus’ birth and take in all that transpired then with our senses of awe. Amen.