12/24/18 – Christmas with God’s Family – Christmas Eve Service

CHRISTMAS WITH GOD’S FAMILY

December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve
Luke 2:1-20
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

I saw a newspaper ad this weekend for a church’s Christmas Eve service with “Christmas is Tradition” in the largest font. Those words chilled me. Is this why we are doing all this? Is worshipping God on Christmas Eve another item on the list of Christmas activities that we check off our list like making Mom’s cookie recipe, wrapping gifts or buying a turkey or ham for Christmas dinner? Is Christmas no more than a nostalgic tradition?

A friend in the mental health profession once told me that people have photogenic memories — as opposed to photographic memories. We remember events and relationships the way we want to remember them, which may bear little resemblance to reality. We can thank the Hallmark corporation for taking all the photogenic memories of variations in the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and creating Christmas cards with sentimental, yet mythical pictures of Christ’s birth.

The bible has no animals present and no innkeeper. In fact, the Greek word translated as “inn” is not the same word Luke uses in the parable of the Good Samaritan who pays the “innkeeper” to take care of the beaten man at the inn. The word Luke uses to describe the place where Jesus was born is a family room not used for sleeping. It is far more likely that Mary and Joseph stayed with relatives who had no extra rooms because other family members were using them — perhaps a few extra also coming to be registered for the tax. Typically, this living area had an area one step down from the main floor to bring in the animals at night. Animals were an important resource for families in an agrarian society. The only other account of Christ’s birth is in Matthew’s gospel and he merely tells us the wisemen saw a star over the house in which the baby Jesus was born. I know dispelling myths about what is inaccurately believed to be in the bible is not popular, especially on Christmas Eve. However, I find it much more comforting to believe that Jesus was born among family in a family home, even if it was in the area animals were kept.

The reason we do all this on Christmas Eve is a celebration of family – God’s family. God looked upon God’s people who were struggling in their faith, living as resident aliens in their own country dominated by a pagan empire. God decided it was time to demonstrate salvation in human form. Two early Christian theologians, Irenaeus and Athanasius, are both credited with giving this succinct answer: ‘He became what we are so that we might become what He is.’ In truth, the whole of Jesus’ story, his birth, life, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, is explained in that simple phrase. Of course, he didn’t become what we are in every respect. He didn’t become a sinner. But he became what we are in our human limitations, in being subject to pain, and suffering, and death. In Jesus, the wall between humanity and God is replaced by a window.

That God would reveal God’s self in the most vulnerable form, a newborn baby demonstrates the unimaginable love and sacrifice God has made for us. God demonstrates that in order to love and receive love we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We cannot try to build walls to protect ourselves without shutting love out. And, that is the whole point. We have been created to love God and love each other in response to God’s steadfast love for us.

Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth with disappointing brevity. While Luke describes the setting with little detail. He mentions the manger three times. One of those times an angel declares “a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” is a sign of the birth of a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. A child. A vulnerable little newborn wrapped with strips of cloth to keep his body straight and to ensure proper growth as was the custom of that time. Jesus was another child born in poor conditions without adequate resources. Jesus was the new King born not in the palace halls of Caesar Augustus who thought he was Lord. Not in the form that was expected of a mighty Messiah—a great powerful, political, military, charismatic, anointed leader. This child of a young peasant girl was born under the shadow of the vast Roman Empire that sought to control everything and everyone within its borders. Amid an imperial cult dedicated to maintaining an earthly kingdom, a different kingdom with a different King was born with a lowly manger as a throne. What an astonishing subversion of earthly power to behold the Lord’s face in a child.

If only we could see Jesus in the faces of all children, then perhaps we would not have shameful rates of child poverty in this country. We would not be trying to keep children out whose parents are trying to save them from violence by bringing them into this country. We would not have separated children from their parents or housed them in cages or tent cities to punish these families for no other offense than protecting their children from harm. As of Dec. 17, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency that oversees the care of migrant children, reported that it had 14,314 migrant youth, ranging in age from toddlers to 17-year olds, in its custody. If only we could see Jesus in the faces of all children and their families, the way Mother Theresa demonstrated:

“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, This is hungry
Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or
gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love
 Jesus.”

Luke describes Jesus’ birth in only two sentences; yet, he waxes poetic in his description of the shepherd’s awe and great joy when they saw the Christ child lying in the manger.  Luke informs us that God breaks through our human boundaries of caste and class, of rich and poor, and of powerful and powerless. This is a powerful message of hope and mercy. It is also a challenge. God takes measure of our acts of loving-kindness and justice, not our wealth, power or privilege. God loves us too much to let us miss out on the abundant life we have been given with our Savior Jesus Christ.

We are God’s family, precious in God’s sight. With the assurance of God’s love that embraces us like a mother’s arms and feeds us with the bread of life, we are challenged to walk boldly into the darkness of our worldly woes and seek the light God has promised to guide us home. The candles are lit, the Lord’s Supper is ready, let us come and share the Christmas feast Our Lord has prepared for us.

 

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org   |   309.673.850