Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Eve Sermon: "And on Earth, Peace"

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 2016

So much of what I do in performing weddings is simply preparing the couple emotionally and mentally for the big day—not just spiritually preparing them. It’s almost like I’m their coach—I give them pointers on how to make their wedding the best for them, I offer suggestions of what works and what doesn’t, and I also always prepare them for the fact that, true to Murphy’s law, something will always, always go wrong.

Sometimes, that thing which goes wrong is a relatively simple fix, like, say, the pastor forgetting to bring the marriage license (yes, I have done this)—you just get everyone together later and sign it.

But sometimes, the snafu is a bit bigger—like a wedding dress that breaks apart on the day of your wedding, which happened to a bride in Canada named Jo Du. But then, well, fate intervened in a truly inspiring way, as Jo’s wedding photographer, Lindsay Coulter, conveyed on her Facebook page:

The neighbor living next door to the house they had rented for the wedding had his garage door open…so I suggested they run over and ask if he had pliers. One of the bridesmaids quickly went over and spoke with the neighbor.

She came back with a handful of tools and some interesting information: the next door neighbor was hosting a family of Syrian refugees and the father was a master tailor and would be happy to help if we weren’t successful. After a few minutes of further attempts there was a knock on the door and the neighbor along with the tailor and his son arrived to help, sewing kit in tow…they had just moved to Canada four days ago. They didn’t speak a word of English, and had been communicating by using Google Translate…

Every weekend I take photos of people on the happiest days of their lives, and today one man who has seen some of the worst things our world has to offer came to the rescue…I’m in awe of the families who have welcomed these strangers in to their homes and lives, and I’m inspired by the resilience of the Syrian people.

I must confess that Syria has been on my heart of late as reports came in of the civilian inhabitants of Aleppo posting online videos of what they feared might be their very last public statements ever as the government forces of Bashar al-Assad closed in around the city and began summarily executing dozens of civilians.

For all of this is happening just days before we claim the birthday of a Savior whom is also known as the Prince of Peace, of whom the angels say here in Luke 2, “and on Earth, peace among those whom He favors.”

Perhaps it might be simple enough to say that God and Christ do not favor a violent strongman such as Bashar al-Assad, and fair enough, but what of the civilians whom Assad is killing? What of their favor with the divine?

The truth is, we should see Christ in this world already, long before He arrives on Christmas Day, because Christ leaves the world the exact same way many of the people in Syria have—by being murdered by a brutal and merciless ideology of oppression. It is the hurt that God sees in the world and the hurt that God sends Jesus neck-deep into in order to give us the means to fix for good.

Yet, we still have not. The pain and hurt the world is in remains the one great undone task of the church—especially when we ourselves are at times guilty for some of that hurt and that pain.

None of this I say to you to try to take away from the Christmas story, but in fact, I say it to hopefully add clarity to the Christmas story. It was not a feel-good moment for Joseph and for Mary to have to travel across the country with her nine months pregnant at the beck and call of the occupying empire that told them to do so, and it was certainly not a feel-good moment for them when she was forced to give birth in a barn because there was no room for them at the guesthouse.

In other words: we have made Christmas into a feel-good moment, and, I suppose, good for us for having done so. But that isn’t what the original Christmas was. It has never been what the original Christmas was.

But the original Christmas was, in the midst of that pain and humiliation and fear, the Good News that born unto us, unto you, this day, in the city of David, is a Savior, and that because of Him, there may yet again one day be peace on earth. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or the next day, but one day. That is the hope that God gives us to hang our hat on, and the hope that we must abide by still.

For God sees the hurt and trouble the world is in, and that the Israelites are in, having been violently handed over from one foreign empire to another for 600 or so of the past 700-some years, and not only does God do the right thing, God does the *most* right thing possible: God gives us this child, God’s Son, divinity made flesh. God could not possibly have done more right by us in this gift of a newborn Savior.

And so we, in turn, are meant not just to do right by God, but to do the most right by God and, by extension, the most right by one another as well. By a bride, by a refugee tailor, by each of us. All.

So when you return home from here, as you go from the Lord’s house back to your own house, and as you gather around the tree or the fireplace with your families and friends and loved ones, please lend an ear to what these angels are saying in the most fleeting of moments between their entry into earth and their return into heaven: “Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth, peace among those whom God favors.”

And whom does God favor? Most likely, the dregs of the world. Not the kings and men of power, for God did not come to earth as one of those, but as a humble child born of humble parents, cast out to the margins of society. And if we make haste to walk alongside them, then, we pray as Christians, we too, like Mary, might find favor with God ourselves.

For Luke then continues: “When 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. So they went with haste…’”

And so should we all upon having heard the Good News that not just in heaven but also on earth that there is peace among those whom God blesses. Alongside the shepherds now, and the wise men to come twelve days later, let us go with haste in the name of peace to the manger in Bethlehem to ask what centuries of Christians have asked before us: “Newborn Christ, here I am. What is it you want me to do?”

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
December 24, 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment