Dec25FriDecember 25, 2020
Christmas Day Sermon
Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97, Titus 3: 4-7, Luke 2: 1-20
For many of us, Christmas is a time of tradition. Growing up and for the first 30 years of my life, I had the same Christmas traditions each year. I knew what I was doing and who I was doing it with. Visiting with each side of the family on different days, eating the same Christmas pudding, making a jolly raucous with cousins and sleigh bells, singing the same Christmas Carols, and going to to the same church. I loved these traditions deeply and still look with deep gratitude upon these moments of loved ones gathering together. Even to this day, some traditions have persisted amidst loss, growing family situations and vocations. Traditions can give us a strong sense of belonging, safety and being home for the holy holiday.
Our normal ways are re-assuring to us.
Our usual normals make us safe, make us happy, and leave us certain. 1
One year my usual normals around Christmas traditions changed. Lo and behold, I went to seminary and internship had me placed out west. Truth be told, I was simultaneously okay with that but also missing my usual normals. (Maybe you can relate). So, on Christmas Day after services were complete, I eagerly boarded a flight home to Ontario. The skies were dark as the plane ascended and the turbulence matched some of my discontent with the upheaval. The year had challenged me with hard but good learning, about being so far from ‘my people’ and patterns of life. I accepted that it was just going to be a bumpier ride than usual and that gave it a cinnamon sprinkle of okay. I closed the plane window as there was Christmas cheer to enjoy inside the plane. Who wanted to look at that dark and ominous sky anyway.
Nothing about that Christmas was going to be normal.
Trouble & Grace in the Scripture
Let’s face it, nothing about God being born into the world fits into our normal constructs.
A stable cave transforms into a delivery room, an unwed teenage girl travels out of town to birth God-with-Us, a poor engaged-to-be-married carpenter becomes the father figure to a child not biologically his own, a shirt from Joseph’s back swaddles the child, an animal feeding trough becomes a crib, trust issues between the couple threaten their relationship, marginal shepherds on the outskirts of town are the first to be included in the communication loop, and animals are the first to breathe the same air as the baby Jesus born among us. And all the while, outside this little stable that twinkle of hope, the people are being counted, the rule is harsh and life is hard.
Maybe that’s why we hear on repeat, the angels bringing words of comfort and the promise of joy to the people. To Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, God’s messengers are busy bringing news of comfort and great joy to the leading roles in the pageant.
But I also wonder, who else did God’s angel messengers visit with this very same message? If I know anything about how much else goes on the behind the scenes, then those angel messengers were not idle.
Those angel messengers were busy washing their gowns, polishing their wings and halos, rehearsing the grand refrain so they’d all come in on the same note and so the quiet hush of the mezzo piano would accentuate the loud rush of the mezzo forte.
Not only did those angel messengers sing, they likely had many other roles. Some fed the hungry, or fixed the thermostat in their broken cloud palace, while a few taught other angels how to use their new electronic wings while some offered calm to those stressed by the ever shifting clouds they lived on.
The angel chorus brought to the people on earth, a message about God that they needed to be heard. For it is certainly into these times of upheaval, God speaks. Even to this day, these words usher in us as sense of safety, a wellspring of joy, and leave us a little more certain about the unfolding story of God with Us. An unfolding story that most definitely includes us .
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
For all whom these words have greeted over the millennia, for Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, the shepherds and all the others who have heard, were not left where God found them. It has been said, that this gift of an interruption so holy transforms the world forever and shifts the course of life for eternity. 2 Yes indeed, the messengers interrupt with the life of God with Us and remind us that we are a part of God’s unfolding story.
Trouble & Grace in the World
There is no denying, that our lives have been interrupted and that there is nothing normal for us about Christmas 2020. While we aren’t travelling far distances to be with the loved ones this Christmas or gathering with big groups around the dinner table, or at the candlit Christmas Eve church filled with choirs singing, we are travelling on a journey nonetheless.
This year we are the ones dislocated, and the Christmas narrative seems to have even more resonance in our lives. It’s a quieter Christmas in our home nativities. And we trust that it will work out for the good. Even as our inns are closed out love for our fellow neighbour, the inn within our hearts is open for the child to be born.
Yes, this Christmas we have room in our lives to welcome the child, we await the angels message, a holy interruption, an in-breaking of the reign of God, a message that we need to hear, a message that we share. It speaks of how God’s love bursts and sings into our lives again and again, interrupting our normals to birth ‘a little life’ into our unfolding story with God. 3
The story of God with Us is no doubt unfolding among us in a unique way this year, in spite of some of the upheaval around our normal traditions. And while some of it is certainly not welcome, there will be bright skies that break through the darkness, steadfast love and faithfulness amidst the turbulence, and there will be blessing.
We worry that the breach is irreparable but the promise of God lets us hope otherwise. The messengers continue to bring holy interruptions to help calm our anxieties with news of the joy of a baby born for us. God is being born in the likes of humanity, and the flame of God’s faithfulness cannot be put out by the Roman Empire or a pandemic.
You require us now to imagine, to risk, and be vulnerable as we watch the new normals emerge among us: the blind see, lepers are cleansed, the poor have good news… We want to return to the old normals that yield for some safety and happiness but you dispatch us otherwise. Your new normal requires some adjustments by us. And adjust we will. 4
That Christmas Day plane ride that started out with dark and ominous skies, it wasn’t long into the flight that the situation started to change. The seat belt light in the cabin went off. Light began to peak through the small cracks of the closed window and into the cabin. I wasn’t the only one who reached to open the window and let the outside back in. The sunshine was bright and glorious with the most brilliant red and orange hues. Breathtaking to the eye. Awe and wonder for the spirit to behold. It’s easy to be reminded of God’s presence when the brilliant beauty of nature or humanity overwhelms the senses. It’s harder to be reminded of God’s presence when the skies are ominous and the plane ride has bumps. It is through these more turbulent times that we are reminded that God was born into such circumstances and even through such circumstances to bring more light, life and peace to all.
We are reminded that,
God is God, and God is faithful in finding ways old and new to reveal life at its most brilliant. 5
And for this we sing,
Glory to God in the highest. Amen
1. Brueggemann, Walter. Virus as a Summons to Faith. Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety. Cascade Books. 2020
2. Adapted from Buggs, Courtney. Working Preacher Commentary. www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-luke-126-38-5. 2020
3. Adapted from Sunday & Seasons, 2020.
4. Brueggemann, Walter. Virus as a Summons to Faith. Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety. Cascade Books. 2020
5. Anonymous Quote. I am pretty certain this is an adapted version from a quote I read somewhere.