theolog cabin

Hosted by semfem, this is a warm, cozy place to curl up and ponder theological matters.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

December 24, 2004 (Christmas Eve A)

[preached at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, Anchorage, AK]
Hebrews 1:1-3
Isaiah 9:2; 6-7
Luke 2:1-20 (primary text)

My supervisor and I decided we would do a sort of tag-team sermon for Christmas Eve, to give people (especially those not used to coming to church) some variety in the voices and thoughts they were hearing. We ended up doing short vignettes on the different players in the Christmas story. I've included the bits he wrote along with the bits I wrote.

Click on the time link to read the sermon.

Townsfolk by semfem's supervisor
At the manger we find Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, and the wise men. Where are the residents of Bethlehem? Maybe they sleep after a hard day’s work. Bethlehem—-King David’s city—-has had a busy day and bursts at the seams with visitors, even making a shekel or two.

Bethlehem has many masters. One is the Roman Emperor; another is the local king, Herod. With all Israel, the little town looks forward to the day when it can crown its own king, follow its own messiah, and worship its own God. Bethlehem has prayed hard and worked hard—don’t they deserve their own dazzling God?

This dazzling God would probably give people just what they wanted. A prophet of long ago had promised them a child who would be many things: wonderful counselor, mighty king, everlasting father, prince of peace. That’s what they wanted!

We (I mean they) wouldn’t have to see the dark side—the poor in the hills around Bethlehem, the homeless in its streets, the shunned in its stables. In fact we (I mean they) barely see the dark side now. Bethlehem gets on with life, on this busy day and all others, people taking care of themselves.

Bethlehem’s hopes have been modest—-good business, good order-—and daring: When will this mighty king be born? Its fears have been small, too—-crowds, rabble-—with bigger fears lurking: “Will we make it? Will we be joining the ranks of the poor, the homeless, the shunned?” “The hopes and fears of all the years” meet here tonight.

Joseph by semfem
There is a man, a new father, there beside the manger, making the best of the situation. The baby is not his, but he has promised to raise this baby as a good Jewish firstborn son. He has agreed to marry the child's mother as originally promised, and gather them into a family.

It all started about six months ago, with his fiancée’s story about the Holy Spirit that was just unbelievable. He tried to listen, but he wasn't born yesterday. He knew where babies came from. He knew that all the evidence painted a picture of his fiancée’s indiscretion. How could anyone think otherwise? Everyone would think he was a complete fool.

And then, the dream that changed everything, that said, no, Joseph, this woman will be your wife and this baby will become your son. He will need your care and protection to grow into a man worthy of his name--Jesus, “God who saves us.” Forget what the world tells you and believe her.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, his long-lost cousins made their opinion clear about this pregnancy. They followed up with a quick slam of the door. No shelter, no warmth, no safety for the very pregnant woman at his side. Could he find a place for her to rest? Could he find some dinner? Could he make a life for this new family?

How can I raise the Messiah? he thought. I'm just a simple man. I don't know what I'm doing.

Shepherds by semfem's supervisor
What about the shepherds? Watching and listening, fighting off sleep, cold under the stars. King David was a shepherd, a king, a poet. But tonight around Bethlehem the shepherds have no royalty, no poetry. So, what do they bring to the manger? Precious little, that’s what.

Precious-—believe it or not they have a priceless gift. They already know they are poor. This is a wisdom that will elude many tonight: Caesar, Herod, the townsfolk of Bethlehem. Little-—in fact, the shepherds have even less than little. They have nothing. The shepherds know they are very small and weak beneath the winter sky.

A prophet of long ago had spoken of filling in valleys and bringing mountains low. Was this prophecy about more than geography? Would God raise not just the valleys, but also people living in poverty—-people like the shepherds? Would God humble not just the mountains, but also the mighty? Would God change the world?

The shepherds will witness what the townsfolk will miss--the event not just of a lifetime, but of an eternity. God will find, this night, a home in an impoverished barn with nothing to offer. God will find, this night, a home in impoverished hearts with nothing to offer. What we wouldn’t pay for a shepherd’s heart, an impoverished heart!

Mary by semfem
There is a woman beside the manger. No, scratch that. There is a half-grown girl by the manger, who is relieved but a little shocked that she has managed to give birth to her first child, without her mother or a midwife.

She finally tears her eyes away from the baby to look at the man beside her. His face is patient but his eyes are far away. She wants to ask him what he’s thinking, but the silence is too thick to break. Why did he stay with her after finding out she was pregnant?

Nine seems so long ago. Was she dreaming when the angel came to her and told her not to be afraid? Did that angel actually tell her that this baby would be born not only of her flesh, but of the Holy Spirit? What was she thinking when she agreed?

Anything seemed possible now. She had a beautiful new son who would play an important part in God’s plan for the world. She had a faithful husband who had trusted her and was going to marry her-—most men would have left months ago. They didn’t have much, but they had God’s promise.

Mary could feel her heart overflow with hopes and dreams as the rest of the world came to a stop. Great things for you, little one, she whispered. Great things for you.

Magi by semfem's supervisor
Enter the magi—mysterious figures from the East, who spend their time seeking signs, unlocking the past, predicting the future. Today’s scientists would hardly recognize them as forerunners—-maybe we are always a bit embarrassed by our ancestors.

In their watching, waiting, and wondering, the magi represent what most of the ancient world has for science. And now they have detected a very big sign-—something moving in the sky. What does it mean? This night the thing they call a “star” is still over the horizon. So are the magi. But they are on the way.

We know that near the end of the journey, the magi will stop to ask directions from King Herod. True to form, Herod will seek to use them and their science to his own advantage. Herod-—in his own way-—knows where this “star” leads.

What do the magi bring besides curiosity? Packed on the camels are gifts-—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The magi set an example for later generations, not only as scientists but also as bearers of Christmas gifts.

But this journey will teach them that, no matter how much we want to be givers, Christmas makes receivers of us all. Christmas teaches the magi of their impoverishment. And us, too.

Jesus by semfem
As for we approach the manger...what do we see?

We see a tiny baby who cannot even hold up his own head. His words are cries and coos, and his act of love takes place in the warmth and softness of his mother’s arms.

This is the beginning of a life...a human life. The first chapter of a human life. And we all know how human lives end.

When we see this baby, what do we see? Do our hopes and fears fall on these tiny shoulders, into these tiny hands? Will this tiny mouth teach us the meaning of life? Will this baby be the beginning of something new? Will we see the wonder of a God who becomes small to embrace the world?

What are we looking for as we approach the manger? One more Christmas ornament? Or are we seeking God? Here we behold God-—emptied for our sake.

Let us rejoice in the gift lying in the manger. Rejoice that our dazzle has been transformed into joy, our anxiety into peace. See in the manger the God who is always with us, the God who dies and is reborn in our impoverished hearts each day. Amen.