December 24, 2015 – The Rev. James Richardson

Christmas Eve 2015

In the words of the prophet…

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”

Something extraordinary happened long ago. Yet it seemed utterly ordinary at first:

The birth of a baby.

No wise men came, no shepherds, no disciples, no adoring masses, no one was there but his parents.

The gospel writer Luke, who we hear this night, tells us this baby was born not into wealth, not into power, not into social status, not into aristocratic inheritance.

This baby was born in a dirty stable. He was wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough for livestock – a manger.

This baby, like so many tens of millions of babies then and now, entered life in obscurity and poverty on the most precarious margins of life imaginable.

The survival of this baby, like tens of millions of other babies then and now, was not so certain at first. That he survived his first night was miracle enough.

This baby was born out of wedlock, to Jewish parents living in a land occupied by a foreign power, the Roman Empire.

The mother was barely a teenager; her name was Miriam, or Mary. She was to have an arranged marriage with a man named Yosef, or Joseph, but she became pregnant – and not by him – before the wedding.

Her life was immediately in grave danger.

Joseph was a carpenter, and in those days carpenters made simple implements like wooden bowls and mallets. Carpenters like Joseph led a meager hand-to-mouth existence.

Joseph stuck by Mary when he didn’t have to. He could have had her stoned to death, but instead the two fled their hometown of Nazareth.

The gospel writer gives this a polite patina by saying they were going to Bethlehem to register for a census. Except that historians tell us there was no census.

They had nowhere to go in Bethlehem; either they had no relatives in Bethlehem or none would take them in.

And so they had their baby in a stable – a barn, in just about as low a place as you could get. This was not anything like the scene on a Hallmark card.

There was absolutely nothing unusual about this birth.

Not at first.

Then, the gospel writer tells us, the angels started showing up – and not just to anyone, either.

The angels didn’t come to kings or aristocrats. The angels didn’t come to temple priests or palace guards.

No, the angels came to shepherds in a field, and they came in the dead of night.

Shepherds were an even lower class than carpenters. They lived outdoors, they lived with sheep, they smelled of filth.

These particular shepherds had the night watch; they were the lowest of the low.

And the angels come to them, the lowly shepherds on the night watch.

Have you ever noticed that when angels show up in the Bible, the usual reaction is fear?

The angels probably did not look like those on a Hallmark card.

These shepherds were terrified. We are but lowly shepherds, they say, why are you coming to us?

The angels tell them something amazing is happening: The birth of a baby, the one you are waiting for, the one who brings salvation and freedom, healing and hope. The messiah is born this night.

And then the angels tell them more amazing: The messiah is born right here, in a dirty stable just over the hill.

“How can this be?” the shepherds ask. “Here? This is not what we expect. This is very different than anything we’ve ever been taught.”

And so the reactions will always be with this Jesus. Expectations will be turned upside down. The last shall go first, the lowly brought high, the haughty and powerful cast down.

The shepherds go look for themselves.

And then they understand.

They expect a king on a throne tossing off judgments like thunderbolts, but they find a healer who will lead a life of simplicity, prayer and truth.

They expect a God of war, but they find the Prince of Peace.

The truth of the message of Jesus Christ is heard tonight, in the story of his birth and the shepherds and the angels.

This messiah is different than anyone or anything the world expects. He comes to set people free in their lowest places, in their lowest moments, in the deepest poverty of our souls.

He brings unconditional love to the broken hearted, the sick, the prisoners, the poor and outcasts, the lonely and wounded. He brings unlimited healing that will last beyond this world and our frail mortal bodies.

What better way for God to bring us this Good News of great joy this night than by coming to us in a helpless baby, born in the lowest estate a human can be born?

The story of Jesus – his birth, his life, his ministry, and his death on the Cross and Easter beyond – this great story begins tonight.

All of this is to come.

Those who first encountered the Risen Christ of Easter continued to write this story in the way they lived afterwards.

Their story is also our story. We continue to write this story in how we love our life.

This way of life, is not just about the afterlife. It is about our life now. It is about how we live tonight, tomorrow, and every day of our life.

This Christmas night, I would invite you to renew your life of faith that the light of Christ will shine in all you do and everywhere you go.

If you are not a part of a community of faith, please consider joining us here at the Church of the Incarnation. We are delighted you are here worshipping with us tonight.

If you have been away from this church for a while, welcome home.

If you are already a part of this church, thank you for sticking with us through thick-and-thin.

Let’s explore this way of life together as we build this caring community.

Tonight we celebrate. Tonight we give thanks for all we have been given, for those we love, and especially for this gift of God’s Son who walks still with us.

Tomorrow, we have work to do, people feed, the sick to comfort, children to rear. This hurting world needs every single one of us.

This way of life will change us if we let it. This way of life will change everything in this world if we are open to it.

This way of life begins tonight with the birth of a baby long ago.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”

May you enjoy many blessings this Christmas Night and may the light of this newborn king shine upon you always. AMEN.