Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Eve Sermon: "Go Now to Bethlehem"

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. 

8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” 15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. (Common English Bible)

Christmas Eve 2015

Driving home on Tuesday, December 8, after our evening Bible study was honestly one of the more harrowing experiences of my adult life—preaching my Christmas Eve sermon last year on Vicodin notwithstanding—and I say this as someone who was out delivering pizzas as the remnants of Hurricane Dolly poured out their contents upon my hometown of Kansas City during the summer of 2008.

The rain was that strong.  And it caused the landslide that splayed out all the way across I-5 northbound, cutting me off from all of you for the remainder of the workweek, and cutting off hundreds of other people away from their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones.

Woodland High School opened its doors to one hundred or so people needing a place to sleep, grocery stores sent over bottled water, and local restaurants cooked food and had it delivered.  People ate and drank, shared stories, and played games together before falling asleep on blankets and wrestling floor mats.

Because, as you could have guessed, there was no room in any of the inns—all of the motels in Woodland were booked solid.

“Go now to Bethlehem,” the heavenly host says to the assembled shepherds, and sometimes, I wonder if we do not always have to go so far as halfway around the world to Bethlehem.  I think that week of the flood, Bethlehem was here, on the I-5 corridor in southwest Washington, when there was no room in the inn for the weary travelers passing through on this journey we call life.

That journey of life, though, is for us not simply a journey through life but towards life, towards eternal life alongside God in heaven, towards the source of our life.  Which means that the journey towards Bethlehem, towards the source of our life that is Jesus Christ, is a part of that.  And this journey, no matter how long or dangerous or arduous, is very much a necessary one for each of us to have to take.  No shortcut, no disregard for speed limits, no cutting in line will get us to where we want to be faster.

Which is what Christmas is, I think, really supposed to remind us of.  God sees the hurt and trouble the world is, that the Israelites are in, having been handed over from one foreign empire to another for 600 out of the past 700-some years, and not only does the right thing, but does the MOST right thing possible: giving us his child, His son, His own substance made flesh.  God could not possibly have done more right by us in this gift of a newborn Savior who must, like us, take His own journey through life to death and then once more into life eternal.  Like I said--just like us!

So where are you on your life’s journey towards God?  Are you just starting out on this journey of faith?  Have you been going for a while and are wondering whether there is an end in sight?  Have you been traveling for a very, very long time?  No matter your answer, though, none of us have arrived all the way there yet.  We’re still muddling along, all of us, together.  That's what we humans do best, we muddle.

And muddling along together, all of us, we go now to Bethlehem.  And it’s appropriate that we do so: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus came to Bethlehem because it was, and is, the city of David.

You came here tonight, a half a world away from Bethlehem, but not at all that far away from the city of David after all, because even this week, now a couple of weeks removed from the massive floods of early December, we are still seeing our fellow travelers delayed, detoured, and put out by causes outside of their, and our, control—falling trees, windstorms, and an array of winter fury that we have not seen here for quite some time.

But it is in precisely those sorts of circumstances that Bethlehem beckons to us, for us to go now to the city of David, because it was in those circumstances that Mary and Joseph too arrived into town, full of hurt and humiliation and having been turned away for shelter, and with a baby on the way.

So, if you too fear being put out of a home in your life, you too are called to go now to Bethlehem!

If you fear being turned out because of your identity, because of who you are, go now to Bethlehem!

If you are terrified of finding a place to be and failing, and of being a refugee, go now to Bethlehem!

If you fear being sucked back into addiction or homelessness or destruction, go now to Bethlehem!

If you are striving to live for good and fear the evil coming back in, then go now to Bethlehem!

Because Bethlehem is no longer just the physical city of David, in Israel, it is something that lives in each city, each town because of what it has come to mean: a place to be, a refuge, an ancestral home.

Just as Jesus’ birth echoes out far and wide to all areas of the world, so too does this mean that the city of David is no longer limited to the town of Bethlehem.  With Christ’s birth, the city of David represents whatever it takes to bring God’s love into this world.  Even if it means saddling up a very pregnant Mary, her worried husband Joseph, and sending them off to be present for the coming of God’s own Son, made flesh and bone with a tongue and lips to speak our language, so that we might one day hear the Gospel, so that we too might one day, thousands of years after they did, go now to Bethlehem ourselves.

But for that to happen, they had to be called to their home in the city of David.  On the surface, it may well have been by accident, or simply to fulfill the bureaucratic demands of a census, or for other similarly shallow-on-the-face reasons.  But it is so much more than that.

Just as we, too, are called, called across mountain and valley alike, from up and down the highways.

You…me…all of us, we have been called here, to a home—God’s home.  On this night.  Called to the city of David.  For born unto us this night is a savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
December 24, 2015

Image courtesy of

No comments:

Post a Comment