Merry Christmas! Welcome to family and visitors. We are blessed to have you worship with us tonight.
This year the calendar falls such that it is Advent IV and Christmas Eve on the same day, an interesting mix of anticipation. With Advent we wait and prepare for the celebration of Christmas, the first coming of Jesus Christ; we wait and prepare for the second coming of Christ Jesus and we learn to watch for God present in our lives even now, in the faces of those we meet and we learn to attune our senses to recognize God active in our communities. Tonight we reach the climax of our waiting and preparation for the first coming of the Messiah, the celebration of the incarnation of God in the flesh and blood Jesus Christ. God is loving and gracious and desires to be with God’s people and so God sent his Son Jesus to live amongst his people. Jesus did not come as a prince living in a palace with feather mattresses and silky sheets. Jesus did not come to live among the aristocracy, the rich and the powerful. God chose to send his son to live with the ordinary, common people.
Jesus’ earthly father was a carpenter. He would have grown up with the clean fresh scent of the sap of the wood his father worked with and the aroma of the burning wood shavings and sawdust the cooking fires were fueled with. Can you imagine Joseph teaching Jesus to make a table or a stool and to appreciate the beauty to be found in the wood grain and knots of a piece of olive wood?
Luke tells us that Mary wrapped her baby in strips of cloth and laid Jesus in a manger, a sturdy structure for feeding livestock. Can you smell the warm, sweet aroma of the hay? If Joseph and Mary travelled with a donkey, did this animal eat from this same manger? I wonder if Luke has Mary place Jesus in a manger to symbolize Jesus’ future role as the bread of life, that Jesus is the food for hungry souls?
The city must have been noisy and crowded for Luke tells us that there were no rooms available for travelers. Did Joseph and Mary have a tent or did they sleep under the stars with other travelers comforted by the lingering smoke of the cooking fires? Did they have to worry about prowling cheetahs, bears and jackals or Roman soldiers and thieves? I wonder if a fellow traveler helped midwife the birth of Jesus.
As Mary lay resting after the delivery of her first born son, they are visited by a band of shepherds who excitedly share that a multitude of angels appeared to them in the fields saying that a Savior, the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. God did not send his messengers to King Herod or the governor or to the Chief Priest, but to lowly shepherds sleeping in the fields with their flocks. The shepherds were probably dirty and smelly with the dust of the hills and the animals they guarded. They probably cussed and spat and were of ill-repute and yet these are the people to whom God sent the angels to announce the birth of the Son of God.
As Jesus grew and began his ministry we are told that his disciples were again common, ordinary people: fishermen, tax collectors, and women of ill-repute. Jesus’ ministry was supported by wealthy women and Jesus seemed to always be at odds with the establishment, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the lawyers and those in positions of power. Jesus knew hatred and betrayal and even died the death of a criminal on a cross between two thieves.
We live in the time between the first coming of Jesus Christ which we celebrate at Christmas and Easter and the second coming of Jesus Christ. We do not know when Jesus will come again, but like the wise and foolish bridesmaids we are to be prepared and waiting for his return tonight, tomorrow or sometime in the distant future. We are called to action; to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to visit the lonely and the prisoner, to cloth and give shelter to those in need and to heal the sick. God gives us the greatest gift of all time, the gift of her son, the gift of life, the gift of love. God is full of grace and mercy and is always willing to forgive the repentant. We are loved by God, you and me, whether we are young or old, rich or poor, sick or healthy, felons or upright citizens. God loves us not because of what we have done or who we are but just because she loves us. God calls us to love unconditionally as we are loved. We are not called to judge the merits of those who need help, but to love them and to provide help as we are able and to accept help as we are in need.
And so we gather tonight to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and to give thanks for the grace and love that God has shown us in his Son Jesus Christ. As you leave here tonight, may you be surrounded by the love of family and friends and the assurance of the love of God!
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Mother Darlene Kuhn
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