(sermon note: 12-24(2) 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. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘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.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
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.
Our reading for today reminds me of the one about a little boy who decided to write his Christmas letter as usual. All of a sudden his mom popped into his room. “Whatcha doing, son?” she asked. “Oh nothing, just sitting down to write my letter to Santa, mom,” he responded. “”With how bad you’ve been this year, you’ll have to write a letter directly to Jesus if you hope to get anything!” she exclaimed. So the boy started to write his letter to Jesus and had to think about what he was going to say. “Dear Jesus, I’ve been a good boy this ye-” He quickly threw his pen down. “Ehhh,” he thought. “If Santa knows that’s not true, then Jesus will definitely know I’m lying.” So he tried again. “Dear Jesus, I’ve been a somewhat good boy this ye-” “No,” he thought, shaking his head. “Jesus is probably smart enough to know that’s a lie too.” So to clear his mind and think better, the boy went for a walk. As he was walking down the street, he spotted a manger scene on someone’s front lawn. He went up to it, stole Mary from the scene, and took it home. As he went to sit down, he already had the perfect idea of what he was going to write. “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…”
Poor, poor Mary, being held hostage by a present-hungry child! I strongly doubt that Jesus would be particularly impressed by such tactics of persuasion. We don’t have too many interactions between Jesus and his mother in scripture but judging by the ones we do have, Jesus knew his mom was a tough cookie. He’d probably scoff at receiving such a ransom note. “She can handle herself,” he’d likely say to himself. Just look at how she handled Jesus’ birth! Late in her pregnancy, Joseph made her travel 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to get registered in the national census. Of course she went into labor while they were in Bethlehem and where does Joseph take her to give birth but a manger alongside farm animals. As if the less-than-ideal situation wasn’t maddening enough, shepherds from the fields descended upon that lowly manger proclaiming Mary’s baby to be the Savior, Messiah, and Lord of whom the prophets had foretold. What an overwhelming situation for any mother to have to endure! And yet, how did she respond to it all? Scripture says, “but Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She didn’t cry out, “would everyone just leave me alone already?!” No, she quietly pondered the madness all around her. A tough cookie indeed! It probably helped that the angel, Gabriel, had visited her back in Nazareth and warned her of who she was carrying in her womb but still, I can’t imagine she ever imagined her birthing narrative to be so fantastic!
It is a fantastic narrative only befitting our fantastic Lord. Of course our Lord was born in a tough situation to a tough woman like Mary. It is shocking to consider how such an important person as Jesus, a man who would go on to teach and heal and SAVE countless people, was born in such an overwhelming situation. It’s no wonder that so many people don’t believe Jesus to be the true Messiah and Lord of all. How could such an important person be born into such a dire situation? We look at the situation from perspectives of privilege though. We go about our lives working to avoid such crazy situations. Many of us have found safe havens in our lives that protect us from those situations. Having our havens is a privilege though. None of us has a right to a safe haven in this world, we’re simply blessed with them from our gracious God. Mary didn’t think she was any less blessed. She knew who she was carrying. She knew that her situation was only temporary. Bringing the Savior of the world into the world was far more important than complaining about the unfairness of the world. Mary knew, Mary knew…
And God’s perspective is far different than ours. He sees all of our situations as dire and overwhelming, the privileged and unprivileged alike. We all live in a fallen and broken world and we all need the gift of our Lord and Savior. If you live in this world, you need help and God knows this. God sent his Son to give us hope in an otherwise hopeless world. The pandemic has taught us many things, the most basic of which is that we are all at the mercy of forces outside of our control. Our bodies are fragile vessels for our minds and spirits. They can be attacked by the smallest of things and can cause us great suffering. The governing forces around us can drastically alter our daily routines, whether by keeping us home from our workplaces or keeping our children home from their schools. The masking and distancing are minor annoyances but annoyances nevertheless. Friends, there are strong forces in this world that remind us just how little control we have over our lives. We are ALL living in dire and potentially overwhelming situations in this world. None of us is all that different from Mary and her situation.
Yet God sends his Son into this world! God sends his Son into OUR lives, whether we’re willing to recognize it or not. God makes his presence known to us through his Son and it makes all the difference to the world. There are no greater presents than his presence! David sang in his 16th psalm, “you show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” (vs. 11) In Jesus, we can find fullness of joy and the path to true and everlasting life. In Jesus, we can finally find rest from our worldly struggles. Recall God’s words given to Moses as he was about to lead the freed Israelites into the wilderness, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exo. 33:14) In Jesus there IS rest…”Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) We made it through another pandemic year, some of us more burdened by it than others. We ALL could use a little rest though. This world burdens everybody in one way or another. Let us give thanks for the gift of Jesus, the source of life and joy and rest. Let us give thanks that no matter what this presented to us, God was with us through it all. God provided for us, encouraged us, and strengthened us. We know the truth of David’s words in his 145th psalm, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (vs. 18) What a gift to be in his presence! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.