Friday, January 01, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Eve, "This Time"

Sermon 12/24/09, Luke 2:1-20


This Time

All Advent, we’ve been talking about time – The Time is Near. The Time In-Between. Time’s Up. In the Fullness of Time. And now, at last, the time really is here, the time that we’ve been waiting for, counting down to, preparing for, some calmly, others frantically. But however we got here, now the time is here. This is the time. And so that is our theme tonight – This Time. Luke seems to be right on program. He is so careful to pinpoint the time at which things happen in his gospels. He gives a little context. Because, after all, we might talk about the date when something happened – 1991, but then find it more helpful to remind our listener of the context – you know, when the elder George Bush was president and Iraq invaded Kuwait. Some context, to make sure our listener knows what we’re talking about. And so here, as he does elsewhere in his gospel, Luke describes exactly when these events are taking place. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered,” he says, and continues, “This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

What follows in the Christmas story that we love and know so well, both here in Luke, and in other pieces of the story that we know in Matthew, is a description of what everyone involved did in those days, in that time, in response to the birth of the baby Jesus. We have an unseen innkeeper and all the guests at the inn who did have a place to sleep. No doubt the innkeeper and the guests had no idea who was being turned away. The innkeeper was just doing his job. But can you imagine such a miracle happening so close by to you, and simply missing it altogether? Going on with everyday things while the Christ-child was being born just outside your doors? We have the shepherds, a group of men who lived on the fringes of society, who literally kept company with more animals than they did people. They were an uneducated lot who didn’t get to be a part of regular society very often. It was to them that God’s messengers, the angels, appeared. They were naturally terrified when the angel appeared to them – but they took the angels at their word and quickly went to witness the miracle taking place. Later there were Wisemen from the East, who would journey over great distances to see the baby, a child not of their own race or culture, a child they really knew nothing about, but who they believed to be a king. They risked their lives to seek information from King Herod and avoid giving him answers about what they’d found. They gave gifts of great value to the baby Jesus. There’s Herod, who was so threatened by the possibility of what this child could be, that he would willingly take the lives of so many innocents just to protect himself. In that time, Herod’s position and power was all the mattered to him, and he certainly wasn’t interested in any plans God had for the baby Jesus except to make sure they didn’t impact Herod. There’s Joseph. Joseph had so many opportunities to run from Mary and this child he surely couldn’t understand. But his dreams and visions led him to believe that God was using Mary, that this child was something special, and that God even had a plan, a purpose, for Joseph himself. And so Joseph trusted in God’s plans, and did what was right, but difficult. And then there is Mary. We forget how young she was – probably just a young teen. And yet she responded so quickly, so immediately, to the news that she would bear a child, with faith, trust, and joy at how God was working in her life. Here, on this night of nights when she gives birth, we read that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Surely Mary shows a special wisdom. That’s our cast of characters in Jesus’ birth – those who were near to the child that was born to be God-with-us, Emmanuel.

But Luke describes to us those days, that time, when Christ was born. Today it is this time. We celebrate Christmas every year, not just as a remembrance of a past event, but as a celebration of something that is true and new to us over and over. Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means, “God with us” – and that is always a present-tense description. Not God was with us. Not God used to be with us, or God was with them. But God with us. Now. You and me. God is with us now, and always. Today. Not only in those days, but now, in these days, today, Christmas 2009. The question becomes then, what are we doing now, in these days, in this time, because of the birth of the holy child, the presence of God-with-us in our lives? How will you respond to God’s presence? As we hear the Christmas story, where are we? Who do we resonate with? Whose behavior best describes how we will react when God again tries to break into our lives with love and grace?

I fear that sometimes we are like the innkeeper, or the hotel guests. God is doing something wonderful right in our presence but we’re too busy with our everyday lives and routines and plans to notice what’s happening. As we’ve been thinking about time, I’ve been all to aware of how easily days and weeks, then months and ever years can slip by us. Have we really been paying attention? Have we really been noticing our world? Our neighbors? The people in our lives as the days go by? Have we really been seeing what’s happening all around us? If God took up residence next door to us, would we notice?

I hope that we can skip over emulating King Herod. We certainly know he’s the villain of the story. But before we write him off as someone we know we’re not like, we’d better double check. Probably we don’t have the same murderous intents as Herod did, but sometimes I do think we have a hard time letting go of our own power. We all have power, in one arena of our lives or another. Herod wasn’t able to let go of his in order to let God’s vision for all people flourish. When do we need to give up some of our power, our positions, our status, our places, in order to make room for others? In order to make room for God?

Perhaps, instead, we can be like the Wise Men. They travelled a long way to find the Christ-child, and laid at his feet things that they deemed most precious. How much energy are you willing to put into seeking purpose? Out of so many blessings, what are you ready to offer before the Christ-child? So many of our songs of the season talk about bringing our gifts to Jesus. This time, this Christmas, will you offer to serve God not with half-efforts and feeble attempts, but with your best?

Maybe this time, this Christmas, we can find some shepherds in our midst. They were the ones on the fringes, but God drew them right into the center of the story. Who is on the fringes in our society this Christmas? Who isn’t inside these walls tonight? Who won’t be a part of celebrations tomorrow? Who does God see that we overlook? This time, let us start seeing with God’s eyes.

Maybe we have some Josephs here. Maybe you see a path of following God that is hard and challenging, even risky and scary. And maybe you know you could make things easier on yourself and choose a different way. Joseph chose the harder way, a way of faith, and a way that brought him abundant life. This time, this Christmas, will you be challenged? Will you take risks? Will you follow God even when you don’t understand why or how God will act?

And maybe we have some Marys here too. Mary treasured and pondered. She took it all in. She was soaking up every bit of the experience. From the instant Gabriel visited her, through her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, through the birth of her son, Mary treasured and pondered what God was doing. This time, this Christmas, I hope you treasure every precious moment. Soak up every bit of God’s love moving in your life. Ponder God-with-us, and the new life, the hope, the possibilities, present in this tiny newborn babe.

We tell the story over and over again – we know how they reacted, how they responded, in that time, in those days. What will you do in this time?

Amen.

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