Posts Tagged ‘Birth of Christ’

A Story Within A Story 12-24-17 Christmas Eve

Tonight’s Christmas Eve sermon, based on Luke 2:1-20. There a story that repeats throughout history…but in the midst of that cycle, a new story happened when God changed everything.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-story-within-a-story-12-24-17

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As a movie buff…one of my favorite parts of the movie going experience has always been watching the previews for upcoming features. Now, in my 38 years I’ve seen this go from 1 or 2 brief snippets to what is now anywhere from 20-30 minutes worth of time before the actual movie that you are there to see begins.

Recently, I’ve seen a preview for an upcoming movie called Early Man…an odd style of animation in this movie that will focus in on a group of cave men as they encounter the next stage in human achievement through the Bronze Age. Granted, I don’t really know anything more about the movie beyond that, but there is one part that makes me chuckle…the leader of this Bronze age civilization apparently wants to wipe out the cave men and we hear him say (French Accent) “Ze age of stone is over.” I don’t know why he’s French but that’s beside the point. (pause)

The interesting thing about this odd little preview…and specifically this one throwaway line is that it actually tells a very old…very common story. Pretty much as far back as we can find…as far back as various records go…pretty much every civilization, or people group, or tribe…they’ve all told pretty much the same story.

The story goes like this….Our tribe is the best. Our god is the best. Our WAY is the best…So come…join us…or we’ll kill you.[1] (pause) I wish we could say that society has outgrown that old story…but honestly we haven’t have we? We’ve just found much more sophisticated ways of establishing dominance over one another over the course of the past few thousand years…but the story remains the same.

And truly…this is evidence of the human condition…the human desire and quest for power. A quest, or a story that we have seen repeated time after time after time as we look back through history. (pause) Now…picture with me…the Middle East about 3500 years ago. And that same old story is running rampant. Kingdoms, if you want to use that word, were not overly huge…because a person could only control as much area as they were strong enough to protect…and sooner or later someone bigger and stronger was gonna come in and wipe you out.

Low and behold…this batch of nomads consisting of about dozen different tribes who sometimes get along and sometimes bicker like crazy move into the area along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea that we would call Israel. Gradually they beat everyone else and establish themselves…and then after a few hundred years…they get their act together and make a king…and he rules for 40 years…until some upstart former shepherd who’s good with a harp, not to mention a sling and a stone…undermines him and takes over…know who I’m talking about? This guy named David? Seems pretty popular in religious history.  Well David expands this kingdom, becoming one of the true superpowers of the day…and we’re talking about 1000BC here. Things go good for a while…but this AMAZING…SUPER…STUPENDOUS king dies…and within about 2 more generations this kingdom, this super power starts to fall apart. (pause) Cue the same old story. Beginning round about 750 BC, we see empire after empire after empire rise up, conquer…enslave…only to erode, and eventually be replaced by the next one in line. (pause)

This goes on for centuries…and so…round about the time that the calendar shifts from BC to AD…if we are to look in on this culture in Israel, who at one time had been super power…we find them now utterly under the boot of the Roman Empire…subject to the whim of Caesar, also known as Augustus…and they were part of the regional control of Syria and a guy named Quirinius. (Pause) Those names sound familiar? (Pause) Do you see where I’m going with this?

As Luke begins this account…this story…this gospel, he places us into a specific point in history…and he zero’s in on this one culture who are utterly caught up in the same old story repeated time after time after time…a culture who at one time were on the top of the heap…but now a millennia and a half later, are scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

This is a culture who considered themselves to be God’s chosen people…even after centuries of oppression…and if we look back through their scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, we see this pattern emerge and the repeated teachings that no matter what happens, God…the Lord…Yahwah, whatever name you want to use…their God would not leave them abandoned. Funny huh? (pause)
But wait…this is Christmas Eve right? Well, this isn’t the right story to focus on…so now, in the midst of all this…let’s look at a story that exists within the old story. And we center in on a couple of teenagers. A young Palestinian girl…probably about the same age as one of our 8th graders…she’s engaged to marry a young guy…MAYBE a freshman in college…and low and behold they find out she’s pregnant…but don’t give Joseph the side eye just yet because she’s been told by an angel that this is the power of God at work…doing the impossible in her being pregnant because she’s still a virgin.

In the midst of the turmoil that this would cause for them within their community…word comes out that the emperor is demanding a census…which not only means recording their name but also major taxation…and to top it all off they’ve got to go to their ancestral town to do it.  Remember that David guy from 1000 years prior…turns out Joseph is related to him…so Joseph, along with his UBER pregnant fiancé have to skedaddle from Nazareth in the north all the way to Bethlehem in the south…either on the back of a donkey, or in a cart, or maybe even on foot…over the course of about 100 miles…only to find that the town is so full that they get shoehorned into the only spot available…and sure enough…its baby time…no epidural…no quiet sterile birthing suite. Just a dark corner with nowhere else to place the brand new baby than in the feed trough. Think Mary and Joseph were aware of their standings in the grand scheme of things?

A baby boy, born in a backwater suburb of the capital, in a country ruled by multiple levels of military and political might…about as far from their home and the comfort of the familiar…far away from family. Zero fan-fair…at least until a bunch of stinky shepherds show up talking about angels and messages and messiahs asking “Hey can we see your kid?” (pause)
I can’t help but think that this story is UTTERLY devoid of anything that even remotely resembles something worth celebrating. By rights there is nothing about this story that makes it memorable…and yet…2000 years later…here we are to celebrate it. (pause)

The birth of Jesus of Nazareth…one of countless births that day…one of literally billions of births that have happened within the human race…shouldn’t matter…and yet it does. So what is it about this story…what is it about this baby…what is it about this man that we call Jesus that is so significant that we would celebrate it year after year after year?

The only answer that I can give for that question is that Jesus…the one we call Christ…is God’s answer to that same old story.  That in this story found in middle of all that other stuff…this story within a story…God is doing something new.

Think about this for a moment. The God that we profess as God…which is the same God that the Jewish culture professed as the one true God…the creator of the entirety of existence…looks at his creation which includes humanity mind you…and this God loves it SO MUCH…flawed though it is…That this God chose to break the same old cycle…This God chose to do something in order to show us that might does not make right…that true power is not found in the size of your army or the territory you control or how big your bank account is.

Because in this story…God is showing us that true power can only be found in weakness. The savior of the universe…the one who will save us from sins…the one who will endure the cross does so because God himself has taken flesh to show us that there is another way. That we have been called to love one another, just as God has first loved us…and that the kingdoms of this world…those symbols of power that humanity is REALLY good at putting our stock in are destined to fall.

History shows us this time and again…because history plays the long game…and you know what…so does God. (pause) God willingly chose to enter into our reality in the most humble and helpless way possible…born in backwater town to unmarried parents who were kids themselves…far from home because of the political tyrants of the day. (long pause)

Now maybe you’re asking yourself “So what?” And if you are, then consider the message of the angel. Behold I bring you good news of great joy. (Pause) There’s a word for that…bringing good news…its called being Evangelical…and in its true form…in its basic meaning…it means proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven…a kingdom which has come forth with this humble baby…a kingdom that doesn’t work like all those other kingdoms…a kingdom that isn’t subject to that same old story…a kingdom based not in power…but in love. A kingdom where we are called to love our enemies and pray for them…a kingdom where we are called to share the resources that we have with those who don’t have enough…a kingdom with a God who delights in us…and desires so much that we can be together in relationship that he willingly became one us to make it happen. (pause)

This is pretty radical stuff…and admittedly, it goes against everything that basic human nature tells us should be right or powerful or mighty. But I’ll ask it again…how’s that same old story really working for us? How’s it working for you? Because its probably not a stretch for me to assume that things aren’t all hunky-dory in our world are they? Not if we’re honest with ourselves…because all too often all the junk in this world…all that stuff that we’re really good at heaping on ourselves…and all the rest of the stuff that the world is good at piling on too…all of that stuff probably just leaves us feeling stuck.

Many of you have heard me tell this story recently…but I’m gonna tell it again because its fitting.  A man is walking down the street and he falls in a hole…and the hole is deep and the walls are so steep he can’t get out…he tries and he tries and he tries but no matter what he does he can’t get himself out.  Pretty soon a doctor walks by…and the man hollers up Hey Doc can you give me a hand. The doctor looks down in the hole…writes a prescription and drops it in and walks away. Then pretty soon an architect comes by…and he says the same thing. Hey man can you help me out…and the architect looks down in the hole…draws a schematic and drops in…and he walks away.

But then the guys friend walks by…and he hollers Hey man its me…can you help me. And the friend jumps down in the hole next to him. He says What are you doing? Now we’re stuck in here together. But the friend says I know…but I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.  (pause)

The world tells us a story…that power is on display through might…but history shows us that eventually, someone bigger or stronger is going come along and knock you down in a hole…but tonight we hear a story from within that story telling us that we have a God who sees us in that hole…and comes among us as one who calls us Friend…and shows us that true power…His power…is found in the midst of weakness.  And the basis for this great power is the fact that he loves you, just as you are.

Tonight God tells a new story…one that sounds like Good News to me. Amen.

[1] Credit to Rob Bell “Everything is Spiritual” Video on Youtube.com for this microstory

The Old and the New 12-24-16

Merry Christmas. In this sermon for Christmas Eve, taken from the normal Christmas reading of Luke 2:1-20, I explore the way that the birth of Christ has become so familiar that it can seem mundane. Yet God meets us in the midst of the mundane to invite us into something amazing.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-old-and-the-new-12-24-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Traditions are an important thing…but they’re also a funny thing. I often times find myself wondering just where different traditions come from…and I also find myself chuckling at some of the traditions that I’ve become a part of.

If I were to list an example of what I’m talking about…it would be something that happens each and every year…several times over, as my wife’s family participates in Christmas gift opening. At least one time every year…and probably more like a dozen times during this process, the following will happen…an individual opens a gift…looks at it for a brief moment as their mind begins to comprehend just what they are looking at…and someone else…almost always the person who gave them the gift says “If you don’t like it you can take it back.” (pause)

For several years, upon hearing this phrase, I would just inwardly grimace…of course you can take it back…that’s how the notion of return and exchanges work…but we don’t need to say it to each other…and we certainly don’t need to say it over and over again.

Finally we made a little switch about 2 or 3 years back by agreeing…all together…that we weren’t going to say it anymore…but…of course, it still happens. (pause) However…this year…that phrase took on a little bit of new meaning, as our Christmas decorating and preparation took an odd turn.

We’ve gotten real Christmas Trees in my family for as long as my wife and I have been married…sometimes you get a great one, sometimes you get one that’s not so great. There have been times when we’ve found nice ones really reasonably priced…and there’s been times when it has cost an arm and a leg. But without exception, each and every year, the tree we’ve brought home has lasted through the holiday season until such time as we were ready to take it down. (pause) Until this year. (pause) This year we brought home a tree…and after about a week we started noticing the needles falling off…A LOT. As in, we’d sit in the living room and it sounded like a light rain falling as the needles continued dropping off onto the floor.

It got so bad that my wife ended up calling the store to complain about it…and they told us that if we wanted to, we could bring it back and exchange it for a new one…and so…for the first time ever…I found myself returning a Christmas Tree. (pause) If you’re wondering, our second tree of this year is faring much better. (pause) But all that being said, I find it almost laughable that this year, that old phrase that we know so well came into play with our tree.

But that’s how traditions work don’t they? And we all have them at this time of year…things that we do each and every year that help to shape the season…that help it all feel real…but isn’t it true that sometimes… those traditions might start to feel a little stale? (pause)
Now admittedly…there have been times when I’ve started to feel that way about the story of the Nativity that we’ve shared tonight.  In my 37 years, I’ve heard this story many times…as we all have. Its “tradition” to hear the story on Christmas Eve…and most of us can probably recite it…but if not, we can certainly list off the details of what goes on.

The Roman emperor decides he needs to check up on everyone, so he orders a census. Everyone needs to register in the town of their ancestors, so we’ve got Jewish people traveling all over the place…including a young couple…a carpenter from Nazareth and his fiancé, who just happens to be pregnant…a situation that was quite scandalous of course…they make their way south to Bethlehem as he’s a descendent of the great king David.

Low and behold…there’s not a lot of room for them in town, so they find themselves crammed in around the animals as the baby is born…and he ends up sleeping in the feed trough. But of course, this is no ordinary baby…and pretty quick a batch of nearby shepherds get the surprise of a lifetime when an angel shows up spouting off something about a new savior being born, who’s also the Messiah, and not only that, he’s the Lord too.  As quick as they get the message, a whole slug of extra angels show up singing…and as the shepherds get over the initial shock and fear that comes with this angelic territory…they decide to head on into town to see if this message and story they’ve heard is true. Sure enough it is, and they share the amazing angel experience with Mary and Joseph and anyone else they run into…and then once its over they head back out into the fields…probably singing the popular song Go Tell it on the Mountain for the very first time. (pause)
That’s the story right? We’ve heard it more times than we can count…and I fear…that maybe its become routine…plain…mundane even….perhaps even to the point where you find youself saying “okay, we’ve gotta hear the story…then pastor’s gonna talk for a few minutes…and we’ve got to get through this so we can light the candles and sing silent night.”

Sound about right? That’s the real tradition here this evening isn’t it? If we’re honest with ourselves…we find this joyous event…something that’s been relived every year for the last 2 millenia…dulled down through simple familiarity to the point of being ho-hum. (pause)
But…its…not. The story of Jesus’ birth was…is…and forever will be…a very…big…deal. There’s all kinds of amazing stuff going on…all kinds of incredible points that I could focus on.

God becomes human…the Messiah, who is the anointed leader of God’s people is born…and he’s a savior…an even bigger deal than Moses in the Old Testament…this baby will lead all of God’s people…which by the way includes all of us…out of bondage and into something new…into a new reality…that in itself is amazing.

And the circumstances…not only does the Lord enter into our reality…it happens as a helpless baby…born in the MOST humble of means…and announced to shepherds…a bunch of shifty low-lifes who weren’t exactly the movers and shakers of society….his parents faced impossible odds…risking ridicule and even being cast out of their community because of the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy…and all of this happened without any human fanfare.  The savior of the world was born…and hardly anyone noticed…at least not at first.

But after a few years…the celebration of Jesus’ birth was celebrated…and as the body of Christ grew through the following generations…his birth became one of the most important events in our church year…one that, like tonight…we celebrate yearly…we remember yearly…we keep coming back to it. (pause)
And it is worth remembering…it is worthy of celebration…because it is a very big deal…Had God not chosen to take on flesh…had the Lord not entered into our existence in the same way we do…then this broken reality, twisted by the power of sin and death would continue in the same way that it has ever since the beginning. (pause)
But the fact of the matter is…that it did happen. There are few little hints within the story that remind of this. Luke starts off the whole thing by telling us who the emperor is…and who the governor is…and so right away we find that this story is rooted in a specific point in history…and then another thing happens…this time with the angel and the shepherds…something that I almost find laughable.

The angel shows up…calms the shepherds down and tells them…unto you a child is born…he is a savior, the Messiah, the Lord. And then to reassure them, the angels offers a sign.  You will find a baby, wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger…which by that point had already happened in Bethlehem.

Did you catch that…the proof…the sign for the shepherds that the Messiah had been born…is that the messiah had been born. Its weird right but that’s the proof…and when they go to see…that’s exactly what they find.

And so when we look back and this amazing story…this story that we’ve heard year after year…time after time…and perhaps have grown tired of…we are reminded that the evidence that God entered our reality was found that day…this is something that has already happened…its not just some feel good story…its not just some myth…but this is something that has already happened. (pause)

Now I bring all this up because of the way that its fits into the amazing overarching story of what God is up to in our reality. And that’s the story that’s found in the narrative of the Bible…going all the way back to the beginning. Time after time…instance after instance…we hear of ways that God has invited humanity forward…into something new. A new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of being in relationship with God and with one another. (pause)
The invitation of God is always into something new…always moving reality forward…and so tonight I pose a question…as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…God’s only son our Lord and Savior…as we revisit this wonderful event that has already happened…what might God be inviting us into tonight? (pause)

This is always the big question…even in times when we revisit something from the past…because each and every time our experiences have changed…we have changed…and our lives have changed.

Tonight we hear the same old story…but everyone here is different than they were last year.  Some are experiencing a new life together. Others are experiencing the holiday for the first time without someone they love. I look around this room tonight and I know some of the changes that have occurred in your lives…and I also know that there are changes that I’m not aware of…and only you can reflect on how your life is different tonight, as opposed to the last time you heard the story of Christ’s birth.

But rest assured…however your life is different on this night…that same old story still holds vital importance…for God…the maker of the universe and all that is in it…from that which is so large that we cannot begin to fathom it, to that which is so small that we can’t begin to see or experience it….that same God chose to enter into our broken reality…and not only that but into our own brokenness in order to do something new.  We have a God who creates new life out of death…who creates a sense of unity where there was only division…and God has done all of this simply in order to get your attention…and once that happens…then God invites each of us into something glorious…a reality where sin and death and pain don’t get the last word…a reality that in many ways we can only imagine…but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t real…and we gather tonight around this story…and we share a meal offered freely to each of us…and in doing so we realize that God has done all of this intentionally…with a specific purpose…and a specific goal in mind…to show you that there is no length that God will not to in order to show you just how much you are loved…and that this perfect love of God, expressed physically in our realty through Jesus Christ…invites you into something new…into a reality where your brokenness does not hinder you…but that you are loved and accepted just as you are.

That’s what this old story means…and so tonight we experience the old and familiar…and we look forward with anticipation to the new reality that God has invited us into. Amen.

Treasure This 12-24-15

This sermon, for Christmas Eve, comes from the normal Christmas text of Luke 2:1-20.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/treasure-this-12-24-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our newly born Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Just this past Sunday, we were blessed to have worship led by our young people, as the JR High students as well as the Sunday School students presented worship in a way to celebrate the Christmas season. It was wonderful with various songs and readings. But one of my favorite parts was during the puppet show, put on by the Jr Highers, when they sang a special song for the birth of Jesus…Happy birthday. (pause)
Now perhaps you’ve heard me talk about this before, but in my wife’s family, we have the tradition of singing happy birthday to Jesus when we are together to celebrate Christmas…I’ve also done this same thing during children’s sermons in the past…and it’s a wonderful tradition, because it reminds us of just what we are really celebrating on this day…the birth of Jesus Christ. (pause)
Now, this is of course, one of those rare times when our gospel lesson is the same each and every year…regardless of what year we fall on during the 3 year cycle, the gospel is the same…and because of this…it becomes familiar…so familiar in fact that we could probably all recite it.

In addition, in countless communities and congregations around the world, Christmas pageants happen…and we see all the familiar scenes…Mary and Joseph coming into town…getting turned away at the local Motel 6…ending up in the barn with fluffy sheep and cows and a donkey…an angel shows up…the shepherds arrive…closely followed up by the Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh…and in the midst of it all…there’s Mary…treasuring it all in her heart. (pause)

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Christmas story. I love watching these pageants as generation after generation of our children learn about the birth of Jesus…even if some of the parts are a little inaccurate, it’s still such a vital tradition. But that being said, this year as I started working on this sermon, I found myself thinking a lot about those extra details…those things that have found their way into our collective consciousness of this story…and since my own imagination and experience has the tendency to shove its way in…I got to wondering about just what might have been happening behind the scenes of this wonderful story of Jesus’ birthday. (pause)

I’m sure it comes as no great shock…but when I think about birth, it puts me in mind of the birth of my own kids…because that’s the personal experience that I can draw on…and while I remember a whole lot of details, which I am not going to bore you with…one thing I remember actually occurred about a day and half after my son was born.

We were still in the hospital…and I had actually gone back to work that day…and in the late afternoon, once work was finished, I headed back to the hospital to see my wife and newborn son…and as I walked into the room, I looked at Emily…and man did she look tired…I remember her asking me if I had any other visitors along with me and when I said no she got this look on her face that was a combination of relief and annoyance. I asked her what was wrong and she told me “I am exhausted.” (pause) Understandable right? She had a baby the day before…neither one of us slept well at all that first night, even in the hospital…and then while I was gone to work…visitor after visitor kept showing up so Emily had no chance to rest at all. (pause) It continued to…because I remember our first night at home, a day or two later…and every time Jack blinked I was awake…like any parents, we were frazzled for at least 6 solid months…but during those initial couple of days in the hospital, its fair to say that Emily was certainly the more frazzled of the two of us. (pause)

But what Mary and Joseph? How do you think they fared during this whole deal…Mary especially. Think about her whole situation. She’s a young girl…probably early teens…about the same age as some of our jr high or high school students. She’s engaged to be married…but then gets a visit from an angel who drops a bomb on her that she’s about to get pregnant via God. She’s facing ridicule from her community…she goes into hiding with her cousin for a few months…and now when she comes home and is getting close to having her baby…the government swoops in and demands that she tag along with Joseph to travel from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south…all for the sole purpose of writing their names down…and get taxed for it.

And since they aren’t the ones doing it…when they final drag themselves into town…they find that every single spot to sleep is filled…and when they finally do get some, rather lousy shelter…low and behold its time for the baby…no diaper bag…no birthing suite…no doctor…no epidural…no crib…and after her labor is done and the baby is born…no simple feat mind you…they lay him in a feed trough.

Sounds wonderful right…but its not over yet…because in the middle of the night…after all of this has happened…a bunch of dirty, stinky shepherds come calling…talking about angels and heavenly proclamations…now…how do you think Mary was feeling at this point? (pause) I don’t know about you…but I can only imagine…she had to have been exhausted…and scared…and confused…the same as any first time mother…but throw all the other variables into the mix…and I would think that she was probably tired…and irritated…to put it mildly. And if it were me in that situation…I’d have told the shepherds to come back in the morning…leave me think heck alone…that’s what I would have done…

But here’s the thing…as I was working with this text…I heard an important reminder…don’t worry about what isn’t found in the scripture…rather…focus on what is there…and amazingly enough…we don’t hear about irritation on the part of Mary…rather…the scripture tells us that Mary hears the words of the shepherds and treasures all these things in her heart…and you know what…its not the only time something like this happens to Mary.

If we fast forward 12 years…we also hear the one story of Jesus during his childhood…when the kids gets lost during Passover and it takes Mary and Joseph days to find him again…and when they do…he’s sitting in the temple having theological discussion with the teachers and priests…and once again…despite the anxiety that we do hear about in that story…once again…Mary treasures these things. (pause)

Now I don’t about you…but Mary seems pretty incredible to be able to put up with all this stuff and not only does she not get upset…but she treasures it…and so I find myself wondering just what is it about this whole deal that is so wonderful…and not only to Mary, though she’s the best example…but to everyone else…to the shepherds who receive the angelic proclamation…and to Joseph as well as everyone else in the house who heard it…and not only that…but to the countless people who have heard this story throughout the past 2000 years and have received it with wonder.

And so I’ll ask once more…just what was it that went on? Well, if we pay really close attention…in one tiny, almost throw away comment we hear that Mary’s son is born.

All speculation and details aside…this baby is born…and so we ask what might the more important question of just what is the big deal about this one birth…one of countless that must have happened on that same day…one of literally billions of births that have occurred within the human race over the ages…what is it about this one that is so important…so earth shattering…what is it that is so different this time around.

These are important questions to ask when we consider the birth of Jesus…and to answer them…we need to take a closer look at the proclamation itself…that good news of great joy that is to all people…Born to you this day…A Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Three names…all of which would have been familiar to those who heard it all those years ago.

But those three words would have meant something drastically different back then. Keep in mind the Jewish culture…now, when they think about a savior…a deliverer within their scripture…well that would have been Moses…the great deliver who led God’s chosen people out of bondage in Egypt…and no one else in their history has been regarded with such high esteem.

And now let’s add the next layer…The Messiah…or the Christ as we also know him…same word, different translation…but the messiah within their culture, was one who was anointed to be a leader…the great kings of the past…Saul, and David, and Solomon…they were all anointed…chosen by God to lead the people…so now we’ve got a new deliverer…a new savior who would be anointed to lead God’s people out of oppression, and trust me, these people knew oppression having been conquered by empire after empire…even to the point of the current exploitation Mary and Joseph were experiencing that brought them here to Bethlehem in the first place. Certainly this proclamation has vital importance…for this baby would be the one to retake the throne of Israel, anointed to deliver God’s people from oppression.

(pause)
Earth shattering right? This is what they’ve hoped and prayed for, over countless generations…literally centuries of history…but…there’s….more. For this anointed deliverer…this Savior, this Messiah…is the LORD.

And that’s where this one simple birth…this amazing story…changes everything…because this is not some simple baby…this is God entering into our reality…and choses the lowest possible way to do it…the most powerful being in all of existence, who’s very presence goes beyond our ability to comprehend enters into our reality, born in the dirt, laid in the feed trough…to a virgin ostracized by her culture for breaking the law…announced to shepherds who were the lowest of the low lives. And not only did God become human, but he was born…as a helpless baby…utterly dependent…God’s ultimate power, entering our reality in order to exert that limitless power over that which we are powerless against…the power of sin and death…God’s ultimate power was expressed in and through that which is utterly powerless. (pause)

And I believe that this good news…that God’s power is found within our powerlessness…within our weakness…within our inabilities…that is so earth shatteringly amazing that it overshadows all the darkness that’s going on. For the shepherds, this announcement comes in the middle of the night…God’s light shines in the darkness…for us…here at Christmas…when the days are as short as they can be and the night’s are as long as they can be…we receive this news…and God’s light shines in that darkness.

And for each of us as individuals, facing a hard reality…a reality where there is pain…and there is suffering…and there is loss…and there are those things in our lives and in the world that make no sense and cannot be explained and can only be experienced as darkness…God’s light shines…and so tonight…on this most special of nights may we cling to the promise that in this tiny baby, God enters the world to lead and to save us from that which we are powerless against…I’d say that’s something worth treasuring…wouldn’t you? Amen.