Luke 2:1-6, 15-20
(sermon note: 12-24 sermon note)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Today’s reading reminds me of the one about a man with a list of symptoms who went to the doctor’s office. The man shuffled into the office, hunched over, wheezing, and clutching his stomach. The man said, “Hi doc, I’ve been in constant pain.” The doctor responded, “What’s the matter? Tell me the most prevalent symptoms.” Thinking about the doc’s question a little bit, the man slowly replied. “I have aches all over. I have a cough that sometimes has blood, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I spend all day dry heaving, and I’ve lost about 80% of my vision.” The doctor nodded understandingly as he read over the patient’s info on his clipboard. “Hmmm, I see, that does sound concerning. I’m going to have you go back home, sit down with a nice bowl of chicken soup, and you won’t need to come back here.” “Wow, that’s all I have to do?! Thank you so much, doc! Say, just out of curiosity, what do I have?” The doctor responded, “No insurance.”
I know, a little snarky…but hey, at least I didn’t use one of the many jokes out there having to do with how awful “2020 vision” was for most of us this year! We’re not quite out of this mess of a year so I think it’s still too early to make light of it. Indeed, for many of us this year created a loss of a job and the insurance that came with that job. Being without insurance, especially as medical emergencies arise, is a frightening experience that shouldn’t be joked about. But it is an absurd situation that can be overwhelming unless one keeps a level head about it. Just because it’s an absurd situation doesn’t mean it’s a hopeless situation and a little jest can remind us of the hidden hope. Humor is a great tool for revealing hidden hope. Perhaps that’s why I like little doses of it every now and then…
Yes, what made me recall that joke wasn’t necessarily the doctor’s response but rather the part that the man had lost 80% of his vision. Vision is an important sense to have in life, arguably the most important of the five senses. For someone who likes to read and paint and write and play golf and watch movies and travel, I rely heavily on my vision and couldn’t imagine a life without it. Now I realize that we’ve made remarkable advances in accommodating those without sight, that it’s possible to live just as richly and fulfilled as those with sight. But boy, having seen what I’ve been blessed to have seen, I would much prefer giving up any of my other senses if I was forced to have to choose. I kinda like seeing, plain and simple!
Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with people who can’t or won’t or don’t want to see. And I’m not just talking about the physical act of seeing. I’m referring to the more metaphysical, figurative act of seeing. People are unaware of or don’t understand important aspects of life. Perhaps most importantly, they aren’t aware of or don’t understand God’s work in this world. They don’t understand why we as Christians gather each year to retell the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Sure, they might understand the importance of celebrating his birth just as we celebrate the births of other people with “birthdays.” But why retell the story every year? Incidentally, you may have noticed I didn’t retell the whole story of Jesus’ birth in today’s reading and that was quite deliberate. On the one hand, I want to save the “meat” of the story for tomorrow’s message. On the other hand, I want to focus on the shepherds and their desire to come and see Jesus in the manger. They’re the ones in the story whose only purpose is to come and see. That and be the first to go out and tell others what they saw. But we’ll get back to that in a little bit…
So why do we retell the story every year? Because it’s more than celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. It’s about helping others begin to see and understand just who Jesus is and why we should be celebrating his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus forever changed our world! Jesus forever changed our understanding of who God is and his work in this world! The whole story of Jesus is an awesome and amazing story and like all stories it needs a beginning. In retelling the birth of Jesus, we are inviting others who don’t see or understand who Jesus is into his story. And who wouldn’t be enticed by the cooing of a little baby, especially in the midst of such drab conditions as a manger?! It is an odd person who resists looking in on a newborn baby. So adorable, so precious, so full of hope and promise, awe and wonder. Babies refresh the soul and inspire pretty powerful responses. Come, look at the baby Jesus, so innocent, so pure. Of course, an innocence and purity that would never leave him even as he aged but certainly more evident in a newborn baby. Babies are just that, innocent and pure. They’re a total drag on mom and dad but they can’t help themselves!
But in focusing on the shepherds today, we go and see the newborn baby. And who knows, maybe we’ll leave praising God the same way the shepherds did. You have to see Jesus for who he was and is, not just physically either. See him metaphysical, figuratively…what does Jesus represent? I and most preachers I know are acutely aware of how he represents new hope, especially at the end of a difficult year surviving a global pandemic. And it is true, there is a new hope to be found in a relationship with Jesus. Jesus transforms and reprioritizes lives. He’ll most certainly get you placing value in the right things in life. But he’ll also get you shunning the wrong things in life. Are you prepared to give up all the wrong things in your life? I’ve always wondered which is the hardest to do: taking up good things or habits or giving up bad things or habits? I’ve found them to be equally difficult but perhaps you found one harder than the other.
But I think we’re beginning to see why we retell this all too familiar birth story. It’s the start to a much bigger story, a much bigger relationship. Friends, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing this Christmas Eve, I invite you to begin seeing Jesus. Come to the manger, peek in, make a funny face…maybe blow a raspberry. Through God’s grace, you will begin to see God in your life and the world around you. Recall the words of Jesus in his sermon on the mount, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (5:8) Make no mistake about it, it is a blessing to see God. Not everyone can or will and want to see God. Lucky for us, we know the way to seeing God: through the Son. John writes, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (1:18) God reveals himself in and through Jesus…with the occasional help of the Father and Holy Spirit. Thus, is our mysterious triune God.
My colleagues and I are right in emphasizing the hope that is found in Jesus’ birth. It is a hope reflected in the familiar passage from Revelation, “then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’” (21:1-4) Friends, Jesus IS the home of God, dwelling among us! Today and all days! He hasn’t left us, he is here among us! And for this we celebrate! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.