“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
Christmas Eve: It doesn’t get much better than this!
No matter how old... or jaded... we may become - regardless of whether we deserve coal in our stockings, or we’ve been good all year - Christmas Eve never fails to fill us with wonder... and stir our imaginations.
The lights twinkling... the candles are burning, the poinsettias are blooming.
And we’re all here! Some of us were raised in this church and wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else. Others made plans weeks ago and are here for the very first time. Some of us are here with questions... and others are just waiting to get home to finish up everything that still needs doing. Some of us made a last minute decision and are still wondering if we made the right choice, and others were dragged here against our will!
There are some here tonight with more Christmases ahead than behind (good Lord willing), young parents with children, kids with long wish lists. And of course, for some of us, we’ve experienced more Christmases than we’ll witness in the future: and with each passing season we feel more nostalgic about the past.
Whoever you are, and whatever feelings, and thoughts, and questions you’ve brought tonight, it’s my hope and prayer that you encounter the light of the world in Jesus Christ this night.
Of course, things don’t always go as planned, or expected... everything about Christmas isn’t always perfect.
I remember, one year... many years ago... when I grandmother couldn’t find a very important part of her nativity set.
The manger appeared as perfect as planned, except there, right in the middle was the little feeding trough WITHOUT a baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.
So we looked, and we looked, and looked some more. We checked the box where the manger scene spent the majority of the year... we checked other boxes of Christmas decorations... we looked in every conceivable location for the missing Jesus.
We even checked the kitchen garbage... with no luck.
Jesus was indeed missing.
Only later, having gone through every sock drawer, and attic box we could find... did we finally find Jesus.
It turned out, that when my grandmother set up the manger scene that year, she put the feeding-trough in upside down. It looked empty, when in fact... if you flipped it over... there He was...
Jesus had been there the whole time.
These days the season of Christmas is filled with lots of stuff. And rather than bemoaning the commercialization and the worldliness of the holiday, maybe you and I need to remember the simple, yet profound truth... Jesus is right here.
Sometimes WE have trouble finding him... but it’s not because he’s missing, or lost. We’re just looking in the wrong place.
I think it’s powerfully telling, that amid the beautiful elegance of the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel... Jesus’ birth - his actual birth - barely gets more than a verse.
According to Luke all of the clutter that might distract us from the profound truth of the incarnation of God in the flesh gets pushed aside...
There are no “Wise Men” from the East... with gold, frankincense and myrrh... NO “star” mysteriously hovering over the place where Jesus lay.
It’s just Mary, Joseph, and the baby.
Of course, Luke does share with us the incredibly powerful moment when the Angels proclaimed the arrival of the Savior... the Messiah... Christ the Lord... to Shepherd out in the fields.
Shepherds? Really? It would be one thing to expect such a proclamation to prophets, priests or kings... but to Shepherds? There’s a reason the shepherds lived out in the fields – it wasn’t just the place where their livestock lived, but also because they were seen as a sub-class, not fit to even be in the cities, towns, and villages.
But God chose to do something radically different and contrary to the standards and expectations of the world.
While many in our world (even today) focus on the people and the places of worldly power, Luke draws our attention toward the margins.
And that’s where the glory of the Lord shined the brightest!
“This is the sign for you – you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger – he is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.”
Of course, most of us have heard this story our whole lives... so many times that the weight of that particular proclamation no longer carries the weight it once did. The angel of the Lord announced the triumphant entry of God into the world to the least likely people – and even more outrageous is the fact that God chose to enter through Jesus.
How could a baby... a tiny and weak and vulnerable baby, be the Savior, Messiah, and Lord?
Only a God like ours would see if fit to transform the very fabric of reality with something tiny, weak, vulnerable. Not by might, not by power... not through armies... but through a little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Luke began his telling of the story of Christmas with an Emperor and Governor... but that’s not where the story ends. The birth of Jesus ushered in a new day, a new Kingdom, in which the last will be first and the first will be last. The arrival of the Savior, Christ the Lord, upsets all of the expectations and assumptions that we’ve foolishly made about this world.
Today we assume we know where Jesus is or, at the very least, where Jesus suspect he should be. We elevate leaders because we think they’re on Jesus’ side, or we dismiss entire groups of people because we think Jesus is on our side.
We relegate the Savior of the world; Christ, the Lord, to our perfect manger scenes only to pack him away in a few days.
But the story of Christmas is that God cannot, and will not, be boxed away. God will not, and cannot be relegated to confines of our experience; nor can he be limited by our vision and imaginations.
God sees the disparities of this world and makes a way where there is no way. He knows better than us... what’s best for us. And through the strangest of ways... that still causes us to wonder... God sent his son, our Lord and Savior, as a vulnerable and weak baby... to transform everything.
Because that very same baby, the one with teeny tiny toes and the one resting in the feeding trough, is the same person who walked through Galilee, who was transfigured magnificently, who feed the people abundantly, who walked on water miraculously, who suffered on the cross tragically, and rose from the grave majestically.
The womb and the tomb could not and cannot contain the grace of God, and no matter whether or not we think Jesus is missing, he is there, he is here, and he always will be. Amen.