Welcome! I am so glad that you are able to join us today to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today is a double celebration. Sundays are mini-Easters when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, but today is also Christmas when we celebrate the Incarnation, the embodiment of the Word in flesh when God came to live among us in His Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah. Jesus was not the result of relations between a god and a human woman. Jesus is the Word through which God spoke all creation into being. Jesus was with God from before the beginning of time. Jesus is fully divine and yet fully human. How this can be is a mystery, but a mystery we can embrace. God is not some distant divine being in another dimension or a distant galaxy. God is not some ancient clockmaker who established the natural laws, set the pendulum to swinging and then moved on to His next project. God is alive and well living among us today, here and now.
The gift God gave us through His spoken word was life, and not just life, but life full of abundance. God gave us a home full of fresh, pure air to fill our lungs; a home of fresh, pure water and fertile soil to support an abundance of life, trout and whales, eagles and robins, mosquitoes and honey bees, snakes and crocodiles, mice and squirrels, chickens and goats, dogs and cats, oak trees and carrots, grass and water cress, and you and me. God gave us a home with more than enough water and food, shelter and clothing for all people and all of God’s creation. God gave us wisdom, knowledge and the skills to find and develop medicines to heal the sick and the deaf and the lame, to grow crops and develop delivery methods so that it is available to all people. God gave us intelligence and curiosity so that we could discover new things and travel to new destinations and take joy in God’s creation. God gave us so much love so that we would be able to love in return; love God, love all humanity, love ourselves and love all God’s creation. Are we our brother’s keeper? Yes, we are our brother and our sister’s keeper. God made us stewards over all of God’s creation to ensure the purity of the mountain streams, to protect the polar bear and the monarch butterfly, to safeguard the environment and our natural habitat.
This is a season of hope, peace, joy and love and yet we continue to see poverty, illness, pain and death. If God is so powerful and so loving, why does He allow this? I don’t know. Some would say that God gave us free will, the freedom to choose good and evil. Again, I do not know why bad things happen, why there is evil in the world, but I do know and truly believe that we live in a world of abundance where there is more than enough for everyone. That God gave us the freedom to make choices that benefit all humanity and all of God’s creation. That God gave us the courage and the wisdom to recognize when something is not right and to fight to make it right.
God knows that it can be hard to know what the best thing to do is. God knows that sometimes what is best for the majority is not what would benefit us personally the most. Life is full of tough decisions. And so God sent His Son Jesus Christ to show us how to live as the sons and daughters of God, to show us what it means to be good stewards of the abundance God has given us. God has sent the Holy Spirit to live within us to remind us of all that Jesus taught us and to teach us all that we need to know to live in peace and harmony, to live with hope and joy, to know how to love and to be loved, to know that we are the beloved children of God.
In our baptism we are washed clean of all impurities of hate, greed, lust and self-centeredness, of all that separates us from God and our neighbor, and when we fail, we know that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we can repent and be forgiven and be reconciled with God and those we have wronged. In the gift of the Holy Spirit we are purified as with the refiner’s fire from the inside out and so are born again through water and the Spirit to new life in God.
And so this Christmas morning we give praise to our God who loves us, we give thanks for His Son Jesus Christ who revealed to us what it means to be the beloved children of God and glory in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit who reminds us that God is with us yesterday, today and tomorrow, for ever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Merry Christmas!
I am pleased to see so many friends, family members and visitors with us tonight. I am so glad you chose to come and worship with us and hear the Christmas Story. I just love the brightly twinkling lights, the gaily decorated packages, the scent of evergreens and Christmas trees, the bright poinsettias, the Christmas carols and the retelling of the Christmas Story. Many of us have heard the story every year since our childhood and yet we eagerly come to hear it again. Why is that? It is because it is part of who we are. It is our story. The Christmas Story helps us know who we are, where we came from and where we are going. It is like looking through Grandma’s family album or going through our family tree. Joseph, Mary and Jesus are part of our family and we are hearing the story of Jesus’ birth.
Tonight’s story begins with Joseph and Mary travelling one hundred miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to participate in a census. Can you imagine walking or riding a donkey from Albion to Grand Rapids or from Albion to St. Joseph and being nine months pregnant? Did any of you find the 2010 census so enthralling that you would have walked one hundred miles? Are any of you eagerly anticipating the 2020 census? Ok, Jon, you and the other Statisticians don’t count. So imagine you have spent the last four days travelling to St. Joseph and your husband tells you that he didn’t make any reservations at the local inn, who would have known that the Boy Scouts Jamboree would have the rooms all booked! Oh and by the way, the hospital is not accepting any more patients tonight either.
Home births are trendy and camping can be fun, but this was probably not what Mary was hoping for the birth of her first child. And yet this is the story we hear of Jesus’ birth. Jesus was not born in a palace or a fancy birthing unit at the local hospital. Jesus was not born to wealthy parents or even at home in a comfortable bed with a capable midwife. Jesus was born in a stable with a manger full of hay for his cradle. Jesus the Son of God, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace is born in the midst of a government mandated march, in the midst of the mundane tasks of life, to a poor carpenter and his teenage wife, in a stranger’s shed. And that is the Good News, that God breaks into history, into our lives in the ordinary routine of our lives and in the unexpected, in times of trouble and of joy, in the birth of a new baby, on the road and in the quiet of our homes.
The story does not end there with a baby born in a stable. Then we are told that the first people to be told the good news of the birth of Jesus were some local shepherds; not King Herod or the local mayor or celebrity, but members of the lowest social echelon. God is funny that way. God seems to favor the poor, the marginalized, the social outcasts and so shepherds were the first to hear of the birth of a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord from an angel of the Lord.
An important thing about this story is what the shepherds did after the angels left, ‘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.”’ On arriving in Bethlehem, they told everyone they met what they had been told about the child and they glorified and praised God for all that they had heard and seen.
Having reheard the Christmas Story how will you respond? Will you tell everyone you meet what you have heard and seen? Will you tell others the amazing Christmas Story of how God came down to earth to live as one of us, as flesh and blood in the person of Jesus, God’s only Son? This is a fantastic story of God’s love for you and me. We are not too old or too young. We are not too poor or too rich. We are not too white or too black or too small or too big or too bad or too good. God loves us just as we are and sent His messengers to tell us the good news that He walks and lives amongst us. God sent His Son Jesus to save us from all that separates us from God, money, poverty, illness, greed, lust, self-absorption, despair, fame and fortune.
Seeing the child in the manger we can’t help seeing the man that will hang on the cross, the man who loved us so much and trusted God to resurrect him to eternal life that he was willing to suffer great pain and die a humiliating death on the cross. So on hearing this story what will you do?
On this night we retell the story of God’s great love for all humanity. We hear the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the savior who has come to reconcile us to God. God has torn the veil that separates the divine from the mortal and has come to live among us, you and me and all people. Give all praise to God. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Merry Christmas!
I have a new great-niece, Isla Frances, eight pounds eleven ounces and 21 inches long with a full head of hair. Isla is the fourth grandchild for my sister Marsha and the first child for Whitney. Isn’t it amazing how, whether it is Abraham and Sarah, Ahaz, Isaiah, Mary and Joseph or Stephanie and Eric, how exciting it is waiting for the arrival of a new baby. Whether it is 4000, 2700, 2000 years ago or the present day a new baby is an amazing wonderment and a gift from God!
We don’t know who the pregnant young woman is in today’s story from Isaiah, it could be King Ahaz’s wife carrying their son Hezekiah or it could have been Isaiah’s own wife the prophetess. King Ahaz and the people of Judah are very worried that they will be attacked by their neighbors to the north. Isaiah is telling King Ahaz to trust God to protect them. Isaiah even offers to provide Ahaz with a sign from God to reassure Ahaz, but Ahaz refuses to trust God. Isaiah gets frustrated with Ahaz and provides him with a sign anyway. It is a familiar sign of a child that the listeners of the story would understand. By the time the unborn child is ready to be weaned the threat to Jerusalem will no longer exist. The child is portrayed eating curds and honey, simple foods for a child being weaned and it means Jerusalem is not under siege and they must be at peace if the mother was able to provide this food. Wild honey and milk would not be easily available in Jerusalem if it was under siege. This was a sign for King Ahaz that God is trustworthy and reliable. Ahaz refused to believe Isaiah or to trust in God.
Matthew chooses to use this same story from Isaiah as a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah which Matthew says is Jesus. Matthew wants to show that the gospel is linked to the Old Testament, that the Old Testament makes prophecies that are fulfilled by Jesus, that God is active throughout the history of humankind. Matthew devotes the first 17 verses of his gospel to provide Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham to David to Joseph including four women three of whom were probably gentiles. Gentiles are included in God’s story from the beginning. Then Matthew does a strange thing of not saying that Joseph is the father of Jesus, but that Joseph is the husband of Mary who is the mother of Jesus. When Jesus is born, Joseph names the child which means Joseph has accepted Jesus as his legal son. Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience so it is important to show that Jesus is a descendent of Abraham and David.
Joseph and Mary are engaged, but Mary still lived with her parents and it was not culturally acceptable for Mary to be pregnant before she moved in with Joseph. If Joseph is not the father of the child then it would be expected of Joseph to treat Mary as if she had committed adultery and to send her away. Joseph did not want to disgrace Mary so he planned to do this quietly. Before Joseph could do this he had a dream in which an angel tells Joseph that the child Mary carries was conceived by the spirit of God and that Joseph should accept Mary as his wife. Furthermore the angel tells Joseph that he is to name the child, claiming him as his own, and that he is to name the child Jesus which means “‘God saves’ because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph takes Mary into his home and accepts the child as his own naming him Jesus, but does not have relations with Mary until after the child is born.
Why does Matthew have Jesus conceived before Mary moves in with her husband Joseph? Matthew wants to say that Jesus’ father is God, that Jesus is divine, the Son of God and human, the son of Mary. Matthew wants to assure his audience that the Hebrew God is not like the Greek gods who assume human form and trick mortal women into relationships. Jesus the Son of God and the Holy Spirit have been with God since before the beginning of time. God created the heavens and the earth and all that exists including humankind. God chooses to come live with his creation in human form through his Son Jesus Christ. The prophets prophesied about the coming of a Messiah and Jesus is the fulfillment of those prophecies. It is important for Matthews’ telling of the Nativity Story that Mary is a virgin, that neither Joseph nor any other man is Jesus’ father, God is Jesus’ father conceived by the Holy Spirit. Unlike Luke’s gospel we do not hear Mary’s story, we hear the story from Joseph’s perspective. Unlike his ancestor Ahaz, Joseph decides to trust God, to believe that God is active in his life and in history and, obeying God, takes Mary home as his wife and accepts Jesus as his legal son.
This week we excitedly await Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, a perfect baby boy with ten little fingers and toes, a dimple on his chin and skin as soft as down. Last week I suggested you think about why you love Jesus and prepare a 30 second elevator speech that you could give to anyone who asked. This morning’s gospel reading gives a pretty good summary of who Matthew thinks Jesus is and why Matthew loves Jesus. Jesus is the descendant of Abraham and David including some Gentile mothers. Jesus is the Son of God and the son of Mary, divine and human. Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus is the Messiah, the savior of humankind. God is active in history and God can be trusted to be with us in the difficult times of our life. Amen.