December 27, 2022

December 24, 2022, Christmas Eve

December 24, 2022, Christmas Eve


1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15When 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.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

I have found myself in an unexpected role this year.   Church Concierge.  An old friend, new friend, or acquaintance will reach out and say – I know you’re a pastor  – but you’re like a normal person.  I have this friend who really wants to go to church.  Who I think needs the church.   Are there any churches out there that she can go to?  Any churches that will accept him?    I have a friend who has questions about faith?   What about abortion?  Can you talk to my friend about that? I have a friend in Michigan who is going through a tough time after a miscarriage, she’s really angry at God – who can she talk to?

I have colleagues all over, and if I don’t know someone I’ll find someone.  You need a church – I’ll find you a community and get the cell phone number of a pastor for you to talk to.   You need a church that will welcome your children will special needs and accommodations?  I got it.  You need a church that will put there arms around you and hold a space for you when you’re not sure if you even believe in God any more?  I got it.  You need a community of faith where you and your spouse will be welcomed and your pronouns respected?  I’m on it. You’re a sexual assault survivor and you need a church that’s not going to shame you and will protect you.  Ok, here’s three colleague I know who are going to have your back.

It’s not about consumer culture.  It’s about the church finding ways to shine its light in a world that has pretty much been convinced we have nothing to offer besides judgement, boredom, and the Religious Right.  There’s not a shortage of people looking for better answers, for something brighter and more permanent in their life.  They just don’t think the church is where they’ll find that.

But the church only has something to offer because Jesus has something to offer.  All we have is what Jesus has given to us.   The power to forgive each other, and be forgiven ourselves.  Grace and mercy.  Enough for each day.  Compassion, generosity, new life and abundance.

The presence of Christ in the sacraments – and the power of the holy spirit moving through us.  We stand as a witness to the hopes and fears of all the years – and where they meet.  In this story.

It isn’t a grand story.  Or a flashy one.   Its a story like when time stands still as you watch a baby sleep.  Or hold the hand of some who is dying.

Its not the sort of headline news which grips our nation with fear, but the word of a friend whose voice centers you as she gives her updates.

Its not a bright light.  Its a glimpse of a street light in the gutter.

The hopes and fears are intertwined – and met – in God coming to dwell among us.    Jesus wasn’t born into a perfect world at the perfect time.  Christine Chakoian writes in the latest Christian Century, about this time and this story.   “It is striking that the story of the Nativity opens not with the glory of God but with that all-too-familiar, ugly reality. This time, it is Emperor Augustus who is pulling the levers of power. He monetizes his authority by ensuring the highest tax grab possible. His decree requires that every single person, even the poorest of the poor, travel back to whatever God-forsaken place their family is from and register.”  ……One might expect that the birth of the Messiah would have a more pleasant beginning. (Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!) Or at least one where it looks like God is in charge, instead of some narcissistic autocrat.”

But the very creator of the universe chooses child birth.  God could have poofed!  Hatched fully formed.  What difference does it make that God – the creator and ruler of the universe – chose to be born among us.  As a little human child.  The very symbol of powerlessness and weakness and selfishness and neediness.  We all know the needs that children have.   What kind of all powerful God would ultimately choose to reveal himself in the form of a human child?

Our cultures prevailing concept of God is the cosmic wish granter.   He wants people to be nice to each other and to say please and thank you.  He just sits up in heaven all-powerful and all knowing and watches unless you really pray hard and youre a good person, and then he might grant your wish. – If youve been nice.  If youve been naughty, youll not get what you asked for and you might just get something bad.  But thats Santa. Not Jesus the  Christ – Emmanuel, God with us.

The word made flesh.  God incarnate.  The intersection of eternity and impermanence.

It means something that the divine stooped to walk with us.  We don’t worship a God that lives somewhere far off but a God that abides with us.  So whatever hopes and fears you bring with you tonight – may you know that you are not alone.  God was born in Bethlehem, in the darkness, for us.  Tonight when we light our candles, and look around, may you be reminded that you are not alone, that you hold light to share with your sisters and brothers. If the church gets one thing right – let it be that we share our light in the darkness.  Amen

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