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!