Christmas Eve 2018
Offered in worship on Christmas Eve at the United Church of Christ Congregational in Wallace, Idaho
What a motley cast of characters! A young girl and a carpenter from a backwater town in the middle of nowhere. Sure, he claimed King David as one of his ancestors, and that was something, but he didn’t appear to have much of anything else going for him. There were rumors of a scandal swirling around about the baby she was carrying, which was enough of a stain against the house of David that it jeopardized his pedigree, rather than secured it. When it came time for the baby to be born, a dark corner at the back of the barn was the best they could locate, and the only place to lay the newborn was in a feeding trough still damp from the slobber of the donkey’s evening meal. Their first visitors were farmhands, straight from the fields and carrying all the aromas and filth that come from tending sheep. Their housewarming gifts were presented by outsiders from far away, the kind that required only one glance, one whiff or one syllable to confirm that, well, they weren’t from around here. They never actually gathered together in a tableau the way we like to picture them in a crèche, but if they had, it would have been a comedy of contrasts, with all of them staring admiringly at a tiny little baby, wrinkled and red from birth.
And you would have us see in this the hope of the world and the answer to all our problems? Not exactly the direction we would have gone. It’s true that nobody can resist a baby, but these were hard times, and they needed more than a hodgepodge of misfits to ooh and aah together over a newborn. Despots and lunatics ruled the world. Their own government had them under the heel of its boot and was relentlessly taxing them to death. Threats regularly surfaced out of nowhere, shattering the so called peace and reverberating through the night. Disease and hunger ran rampant, corruption and distortion ruled the day, and people were sick at heart and weary in the marrow of their bones.
Suddenly, into the darkness and despair of their lives, an angel sang, announcing, Do not be afraid; for behold, I am bringing you good news of a great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior: a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in a manger. Really? That’s your best shot? The hope of the world and the cure for all that ails us wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger? Not quite the direction we would have gone. We were thinking more along the lines of power and strength, decisive in battle and impressive in debate. We’d even be willing to suggest some names for you to consider, more likely candidates and strategies for addressing the work at hand.
But God was clear then as God is clear now: I’m not not looking for a conquering army, but for the power of gentleness and the vulnerability of a child. I won’t rule through edicts imposed from on high, but with the strength of a love that doesn’t give up and won’t give in, that refuses to draw boundaries that shut people out. I will not govern by fear but invite you to walk in the strength of trust and the confidence of knowing you are loved without limit or condition. I’m not interested in sending someone else, but intend to go myself, to slip in beside you and make my home among you.
Emmanuel. God-with-us, in the person of Jesus and in every heart, life and community open to receive God, to walk together in love, work together in compassion, live together in peace. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace. May it be so. Amen.