This sermon was preached on Christmas Eve at Winnetka Presbyterian Church. My text was Luke 2:1-20. It was the first Christmas Eve sermon I’ve preached.[audio:http://pomomusings.com/wp-content/mp3/What-Christmas-Isnt.mp3]
At 2am, I heard her words. “Adam. I think my water broke.”
Now, I knew this was going to happen. I knew that eventually Sarah’s water would break, and the birthing process would begin, and we would welcome our son into the world…but when the whole thing actually began…? Well, it felt more like a dream than anything else. Of course, the fact that it was 2am may have had something to do with that…
I jumped out of bed, and immediately began going through my mental checklist of everything that needed to be done. First, I needed to call the Family Birth Center, and let them know that things had started for us, and that we would be on our way soon…and to make sure they had a room and bed ready for us.
Second, I needed to call our doula. The plan was that she would talk us through things over the phone, and let us know when she thought we really should be leaving for the hospital. I was pretty sure we just needed to get in the car and get to the hospital ASAP. But we waited for a few minutes. I opened up the Contraction Master iPhone app, and did my best to time the contractions. And yup. Sure enough. The notification popped up on my iPhone screen: GO TO THE HOSPITAL.
And so we began the 30 minute drive in to Medford, Oregon. Sarah and I were discussing whether or not I should actually be speeding down the freeway…I wanted to get her there as soon as possible, but what if we got pulled over by the police…surely they would let us be on our way, but that might slow us down…
I’m sure I was completely frazzled and stressed…I was probably in what we like to call at the Walker Cleaveland home “Frantic Adam Mode.” I was unsure of exactly what I should be doing…but at least we had a plan. We knew the people we needed to call.
I knew that as soon as I pulled up to the front door of the Family Birth Center, they would usher us into a very comfortable room, where we would be well taken care of. I knew that while our doctor was off in Hawaii at the time, there would be plenty of doctors and nurses and trained professional who would guide us through the next few hours.
While not everyone may have an experience like this, it’s not an unfamiliar story.
And so…as I began to read this text…I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph…making that journey to Bethlehem, all the while knowing that Mary was due and…well, who knew where they were going to be when the time came.
I can imagine them arriving in Bethlehem, and Joseph getting into “Frantic Joseph Mode” – running from inn to inn, from home to home…trying to find some place that would have some room for them…for his pregnant wife…for his wife who was about to deliver her baby. It didn’t even matter what size – they just needed a place.
Verse 6 doesn’t tell us a whole lot. “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver the child.” And then verse 7 begins with, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”
Really? I love passages like this…where we read certain verses and realize how much the Bible is NOT telling us, how much has been left out. We know that hours and hours have probably gone by between verses 6 and 7.
And while we aren’t made privy to all the details of Jesus’ birth…we do have some sense of what it might have been like. Jesus…God incarnate…Emmanuel…God-with-us…was born just as every other human has been born. That was part of the deal, part of the whole “Word becoming flesh and living among us…,” part of Jesus’ ability to experience life fully as one who was fully human.
And so Jesus was born and the word got out.
It was the angels who knew first, and they couldn’t keep it to themselves, they had to share the good news with the shepherds nearby.
The angel of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host brought the news to the shepherds, and…upon sharing the news, much like an episode of GLEE or a flash mob, everyone burst out into song, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors!’
And the shepherds…? Well, they had to see it with their own eyes. And who can blame them? If you were working out in the fields, keeping watch over your flock by night…and angels showed up and told you that the savior was born in the next town over…wouldn’t you also want to go and see it with your own eyes? Wouldn’t you want to be a witness to something so wonderful? So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
When the shepherds saw this, they couldn’t keep it to themselves either, and they had to share the news of what they had seen with any and all who would listen…and people were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But it was Mary…Mary who chose to keep the good news to herself…she treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. A much different response than we saw from the angels or the shepherds.
As I first read this passage this past week, I was drawn to the responses of all the characters in this story. The angels seemed to respond to the news of Jesus’ birth by worshipping God. The shepherds responded to seeing Jesus by sharing with others what they had been told about Jesus, and what they had seen.
And then we have Mary…who chooses a quieter response, but one that is equally important: she ponders all that she has heard, she reflects on the experiences she has just had…you can almost imagine her just sitting there, gazing at her newborn child, the one who would become the savior of the world…and treasuring everything about that moment.
I was intrigued by these responses to the birth of Jesus, and began wondering what our response should be today, as we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. And that is what I was going to preach on tonight…and I was going to ask you the question, “How will you respond? How will YOU respond to the birth of Jesus?”
But the more time I spent with that question…the more something just didn’t sit right with me. How will you respond? How will “I” respond?
And that’s when it hit me.
The birth of Christ doesn’t ask us “What will you do?” or “How will you respond?”
Christmas isn’t about what we will do.
Christmas is about what God has already done, through Christ.
Christmas isn’t about a list of things that we must do to receive the gift of God’s love.
Christmas is about every one of us already being a child of God, and receiving the love of God, seen most visibly through the very same God that created us, becoming Flesh and Blood, and moving into our neighborhood.
Christmas isn’t about our response to God.
Christmas is about God’s response to us…to God’s creation…
And it is through God’s response, that we see the character of God most fully.
We see a God who loves us, who cares for us, who wants, deeply, to be in relationship with God’s creation.
We see a God who humbled Godself, who emptied Godself, being born in human likeness.
And we see a God who did not let the distance between the heavens and the earth keep God from being with God’s creation.
The Message translation ends our story with this line: “The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.”
While I don’t imagine that we will ever fully grasp all that Christmas is, I do think that we, like the shepherds, have every reason to also return and let loose! To glorify and praise God for everything that we have heard and seen this night.
To rest in God’s care, trusting that God’s grace and peace and love and compassion are made known to us, this night, through the birth of a baby boy over two millennia ago…
For in the miracle of Christmas, we see that God is a God who loves us, who is a Savior that was born in our likeness, and who is a Spirit that was present from the very beginning and continually guides and directs us.
Some may ask, what child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Why, this! This is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
This is the baby that will usher in a new world.
This is the Creator of the Universe, the God who was, before all creation, breaking through all imaginable barriers, and becoming incarnated into one of us.
This is the one whose presence we will celebrate in just a few minutes, as we come to the Table, a Table that is open to all.
And so we gather here together tonight, to let our loving hearts enthrone the Christ Child, to raise our songs on high, and to sing, “Joy! Joy! for Christ is born, the babe, the son, of Mary!”