Sermon - Brad Brookins
Christmas Eve You, Too
Here’s a Bible passage I’ve never heard on Christmas Eve before. Maybe we’ll start a new tradition. Keep these words in mind as we proceed. This is I Jn 4. 7-10—
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent the only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us. (Prayer)
So here’s the Christmas story, one more time.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, a virgin girl conceives a child who is to become the king of Israel; who will be called the Son of God; who is to be, in fact, God with us, God among us as one of us.
That’s is how the story begins. What happens next is rather odd.
Very close to Mary’s due date, she and Joseph have to make an inconvenient trip to his hometown. Rome has requested the pleasure of their company in Bethlehem. Caesar wants to count heads, you see. Mary and Joseph must comply.
As the crow flies, Bethlehem is some 70 miles from Nazareth. The trip is probably made on foot— in the story there is no donkey for Mary to ride.
And when they get to Bethlehem the inns are all full; there is no place for them to stay. The Queen Mother of Israel doesn’t get a soft bed with satin sheets, or warm water to wash her tired, swollen feet. She gets no bed at all. What she gets is the corner of a cow barn, most likely with cows included.
Maybe the hay was clean; maybe it wasn’t. For sure the place smelled like a barn. Cows don’t stop producing manure, you know, just because the Son of God drops by.
And when the time comes for “Immanuel”, for God to be with us, there is no luxury to the birth. The child isn’t given a warm bath or silk pajamas to caress his baby skin or a down pillow to rest his little head. No, he is wrapped up in strips of cloth—that come from who knows where, and laid in a rough feed trough full of old hay and cow spit.
The child king does receive visitors on his birthday, but look who they are—a few startled shepherds scared up from the hillside.
The 1st century world, like ours today, was carefully organized by class. At the top of society were the wealthy and the powerful—military, politicians, business people. Below them was everybody else. And at the very bottom of the heap were the shepherds.
Every ladder has a bottom rung, you know. Societies always need a scapegoat. In Palestine that role fell to the shepherds. They were seen as lazy, shiftless, dishonest, untrustworthy, dangerous even; a threat to decent people. No one hung out with shepherds, except sheep.
But in Luke’s gospel, no one else even notices Immanuel; notices that God has come to be with us. No one else gets it; or even cares.
True, in Matthew’s gospel the baby Jesus is visited by wizards from Iraq bearing gifts. But that just proves the point. The people you would expect to notice the birth of a king don’t. The politicians don’t notice. The rich and powerful don’t notice. The priests and preachers don’t notice.
Just these outsiders; these interlopers from a foreign land, where people speak the wrong language and follow the wrong religion and call God by the wrong name. They see the star; no one else does.
It’s the outsiders who are there to welcome, and be welcomed by, this new king born in a cow stall. Then they go back home and are never heard from again.
But maybe all that is the point.
Look—Mary and Joseph are told about Jesus’ birth a full nine months before it occurs. Nine months is a long time. If Immanuel is about to happen—if God is about to be born among us, nine months is plenty of time to make the proper arrangements. In nine months the Creator of the universe could certainly have acquired a comfortable castle and a soft bed, don’t you think? With that much time you could even book reservations at a good Bethlehem Air BnB if you wanted to—
if you wanted to.
So, if the one who would be called the Son of the Most High wakes up to his new life in a feed trough—in a stable—in a backwater town—tucked away in an obscure corner of a minor country—a tiny speck of a country, in the mighty Roman empire—it must be because he wanted it that way.
And if the company he keeps—almost from the moment he takes his first breath, includes those deemed smelly and insignificant by the perfumed and the powerful, if his best friends are the outsiders who speak the wrong language and worship the wrong God, it has to be that he at least enjoys their company; maybe he prefers their company. You can see, I’m sure, that no other explanation fits.
‘Do not be afraid’, the angel said to the shepherds; ‘for see, I am bringing you good news—Yeah, you guys; who don’t smell so good, who can’t be trusted. You who are broken, or have been told too many times that you are nothing, I am bringing you good news… to you is born this day in Bethlehem a Savior, a friend’.
And this is good news for the other outsiders, too—the foreigners, the strangers; the people who experience God differently than everybody else in town; or who maybe experience God not at all!
This is the king of the world we’re talking about here. His is a very big stable. He sets a very large table. No one is excluded; no one is kept away.
This is the Christmas story; and it is still true today. No matter who we are or where we are on this journey we call life, all of us are welcome in his stable; all are welcome at his table.
“I am bringing good news”, the angel said. “Good news of great joy for all the people”.
“For all the people”. For you, too.
Angels don’t lie. You do know that, don't you. Angels can’t lie. When they say all, they mean all. That goes for me. And that goes for you, too. And for everyone else.
To all of us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, a friend.
It doesn’t matter tonight if you are poor or rich—though you will, of course, hear the story differently if you are poor or rich. The poor will hear a story of hope and courage. The rich will hear a call to kindness and generosity.
But still, it is good news. To you is born this day a Savior, a friend.
It doesn’t matter what shade of brown your skin is—whether it is the lightest tan, a deep mahogany or anything in between. Though your skin tone may suggest how you will hear the news and how the news will affect you, it is still good news. To you is born this day a Savior.
Your politics don’t matter either. This is good news to both Republicans and Democrats, Greens and Socialists. Although, if this news doesn’t have some profound effect on how you vote, it may be you haven’t quite heard it yet.
We need to listen carefully.
Neither does it doesn’t matter if you are straight—or gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or queer in any other beautiful, non-binary way. God is love, St John said. And if God is love, then love, like God, can know no bounds. The love that is God reaches everyone. To you—to all, is born this day in the city of David a Savior—a friend.
Even your religion doesn’t matter. I am bringing “good news of great joy for all the people”, the angel said. If you are a Christian you will, of course, hear good news in the cry of the baby born this night. Jews hear its echoes in the Torah. Muslims find it in the Koran. If you are “spiritual but not religious” you may see this good news in the beauty and symmetry of nature; or in the face of someone who loves you.
God is love, remember.
Whenever we see or give or receive love, we are seeing God. Wherever love is, as our kids sang last Sunday, God is there, too. To you—to all is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, a friend.
This is what happens, you see, when the king of the universe moves into a questionable neighborhood in a backwater little town. Holy love erupts. The hay, the manger, the barn become holy. The shepherds, the wisemen become holy. The village—everything becomes holy; made so by this good news; this holy, divine love; this little baby born to repair and redeem the whole world.
This is Christmas, don’t you know—a baby’s open arms; a mother’s gentle kiss; a father’s protective gaze. This is Christmas. And it’s here—at last.
All around us.
For all of us.
Some of you have been waiting all year for this night. Some of you have been waiting your whole lives for this night.
Some of you are not yet ready for this night; and that’s OK. To you, as well, is born this day in the city of David a Savior, a friend. He’ll be here when you are ready.
We began the Advent season singing “O Come, O Come Immanuel”. Well, Immanuel has come. The stable doors are open wide. The party has begun.
Tonight God is with us. With all of us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Happy Christmas everybody!
Christmas Eve Service. No Bible study for today.