(Here’s the sermon I preached on Christmas Eve in response to the passages of Scripture from Isaiah 9 and Luke 2.)
2020 has been one heck of a year, hasn’t it? You could probably spend about an hour listing all the terrible things that have happened this year. Things that have gone way outside of what we had considered normal before 2020. Crazy stories and circumstances. Deep divisions and festering wounds that refuse to heal. A deadly virus that just won’t go away. This has been a year in which I watched and heard many things and many people that made me shake my head in disbelief, confusion, anger, and sorrow. This has been a challenging year.
And in the midst of those challenges, we have seen some amazing progress too. A vaccine that came into existence quicker than any previous vaccine. We’ve seen people reach out to neighbors and loved ones in amazing ways thanks to technology. We’ve gotten creative in how we worship and continue to be community and continue to care for those in need.
And yet here we are – Christmas Eve. We’re not worshipping in a way that we expected. These are less than ideal circumstances, to say the least. This evening is a dreary, rainy day. And that may describe more than just the weather – it may describe how we are feeling too. Dreary, dark, soaked, wiped out.
We heard in the passage from Isaiah that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The people who heard this passage knew what it meant to be in the dark. They knew what it was to be dreary and wiped out. To have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. To actually believe in the vision that was given to them – it would be difficult. All they had to do was look around and see that reality didn’t match up with the promise.
Jesus was born in less than ideal circumstances, as we heard in our Gospel reading. Joseph and Mary had to leave their home just as Mary is getting ready to give birth. All so they can pay a tax for an emperor who didn’t know they existed and really didn’t care about them so long as they pay the tax to support his luxurious lifestyle and the empire that defended it.
They traveled by foot and on donkey, somewhere between 80-100 miles, which would have taken about a week to complete. Imagine doing that while being 9 months pregnant. It was less than ideal circumstances. I can only imagine how dreary that must have felt.
And then they arrive and there’s nowhere for them to go to rest. So, they are out with the animals, essentially homeless. And that’s where Mary gives birth to Jesus, the savior. In less than ideal circumstances.
And then the news is broadcast – but not to the powers that be, or those with influence, who could do something to make like easier for Jesus and his family. No, the news is first told to shepherds out in the field. People who really had nothing, except what they were wearing.
Jesus comes into the world in the home a bunch of dirty farm animals and his first visitors are shepherds who probably stuck. Not ideal circumstances. Kind of dreary really.
But fitting actually. You see, what good is a Savior who comes when everything is hunky doory? What exactly would that kind of savior actually save us from? What good is a Savior who comes where everything is in order, everyone is just fine, and there are no challenges in life – or at least the façade looks that way? If life, and society, and the world are just fine and dandy, then there really isn’t a need for a savior is there?
But that’s not the reality of the world, is it? No matter how that false vision is often sold to us. No, not even close. 2020 should make that crystal clear. If we can celebrate anything about this year, it would be that the façades that have been constructed in our society are being exposed for what they are – false. We’re being forced to look at the unpleasant dreariness of poverty, division, racism, and what I can only call forms of idolatry that are nothing but destructive. We’re dealing with reality and may not like it. And it is less than ideal. It can be downright dreary.
And the good news is, this is exactly what needing a Savior is all about. This is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus tonight. This is why we need him, why we need a savior. A Savior who actually saves us because we need saving. We can fix these things on our own – no matter how hard we try. Salvation for right now, not just for some distant off in the future heavenly time. No, we need saving right now. The world needs saving right now. Saving from bitter divisiveness.
And this is why Jesus came so long ago. This is why Jesus continues to be in our presence now. Jesus comes and he brings the Kingdom of God, which is based on Shalom, which means wholeness and completeness. It is about community and seeing the image of God in ourselves and in others. This is what we need. This is what Jesus brings into the dreary world. This is why we celebrate the incarnation and what it means. Because this is Jesus saving the world, right now. He’s the light that guides our path as we walk in the darkness.
Jesus saves us from oppressive systems that tear people down and dehumanize. And in its place Jesus comes to the poor and outcast first – those that society finds valueless. Jesus comes and flips the world right side up. This is why we celebrate the incarnation and what it means. Because this is Jesus saving the world, right now. He’s the light that guides our path as we walk in the darkness.
Jesus saves us from hardened hearts and willful stubbornness that seek self-preservation at the cost of all others. And in its place Jesus comes to set the example of serving others, caring about others, loving others in ways that the world just doesn’t understand. This is why we celebrate the incarnation and what it means. Because this is Jesus saving the world, right now. He’s the light that guides our path as we walk in the darkness.
To those who lived in a land of deep darkness – In the dreariness, on them light has shined. And that light is Jesus. This is the year that we can more clearly see how desperately we need a savior and what that salvation means for us, for our communities, and for our world. Jesus shines that light for us to see. This is what the birth of Jesus is about. Jesus is the light that comes into our lives, our communities, and our world. And he brings salvation – for both now and for days to come. Thanks be to God.