Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Did the birth of Jesus change the outward circumstances of the people in Luke's story? Maybe not. Nevertheless, the birth of the Messiah brought joy, presence, and hope to everyone.
The day of celebration with carols, rejoicing, and great anticipation is here. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
Some of you may have already opened your Christmas gifts, or if you are like me, you are waiting to open them when you get home after the Christmas Day service – a tradition I inherited from my Dad.
Whatever uplift we receive from Christmas begins to fade after the high of the gifts. Maybe the question creeps into our heads, especially after checking the bills and all the noise of the past few weeks: Did Christmas make any difference? Maybe Santa did show up for our little ones, and they are thrilled – their eyes are wide and bright. For them, Christmas changed everything. But for you and me, did Christmas change anything?
You might ask the same question today in our drama in Luke's Gospel. How did the birth of Jesus change anything for the characters?
We can start with the Roman Emperor Augustus and Quirinius, the governor of Syria at the time. The day of Jesus' birth probably made no difference in their lives. To them, it was perhaps another peaceful day. They would not have noticed the birth of a lower-class boy in a small backwater of their domain. No heavenly chorus visited the palace and sang to them. They crawled into bed that night, unaware of God's action in Bethlehem. Perhaps they awoke with an army protecting the family, kingdom intact, and not a hint of a change anywhere in the world – no clue about God's son born that night whose power would "pull the mighty from their seat and exalt the humble and meek."
What about Mary and Joseph? Eight months or so pregnant, Mary slowly trudged step by step to Bethlehem. Did anyone notice them in the world except the stable owner?
And Joseph? Last week, at our Wednesday bible discussion, I asked the group, "do you ever think about Joseph's position and his burden in this nativity story?" Well – not as much as they did about Mary. But we all agreed that Joseph proceeded to take Mary as his wife out of faith. And we know it is not easy to find faith when one's happiness appears to have disappeared. Yes – Joseph's happiness disappeared when he found out his bride was already with a child. Our experiences show us that happiness can disappear in personal circumstances - when the spouse cheats, your child has a severe illness, or you lose your job. So, after Joseph discovered that his bride-to-be was with a child, his mind may have swirled with confusion and asked many questions. But these questions did not change his circumstances.
How about the shepherds? However surprising the shepherds' visit might have seemed, the next day, the day after Jesus' birth, would have seemed no different. They were poor shepherds (probably hireling's hands) and had no money to bring – not even a lamb.
If you think about it, the birth of Jesus did not change the outward circumstances of the lives of the main characters in Luke's story. It did not chip away at the wealth and might of the empire, and it did not bring balance to the power in the world. All of that continued just as it had.
What about now? Does Christmas change much of anything? Hold on to that thought - Even though the outward circumstances of the characters in Luke's narrative had not changed, the shepherds had seen the angels. They had heard the sweet voices from heaven, "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." Maybe as the shepherds told their story, those words stayed with them. Who could have forgotten such an experience and such a message? Did that experience give them more patience with life? Did it give them more endurance for their weariness? Maybe not. But, they knew that God had come into their world, noticed them, and shared the joy of the birth of the Messiah through them.
Mary and Joseph would still have a hard life, but they had experienced the angels' visit. They had experienced the shepherds' story. Their words may have sustained them, giving them meaning through this ordeal. What Joseph did – taking Mary home as his wife in response to the dream - advanced the plan for salvation.
So, as we look at the "seemingly unchanged" world on the day after Christmas, may we reach back to the melody of the heavenly host and the message of peace they bring!" Translation? God is working his purpose out – God has the last word, and we claim that promise - the promise that "God will favor whom he favors." Through us, God will care for those who do not have enough.
Even if it seems as though nothing has changed, let us open our hearts to how everything has changed since the first Christmas. Because of Christmas, we have hope for a new life!
So, as you gather with those you love on this Christmas Day, breathe new life into Luke's story; tell the story of your encounter with the Christ of Bethlehem. Let people know something has changed because of Christmas. May God, who sent his angels to proclaim the glad news of the Savior's birth, make you heralds of the Gospel. Amen!