Christmas Eve 5:30 PM, Year B, December 24, 2017
Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20
First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho
Pastor Andy Kennaly
The Gospel of Mark begins in chapter one with the Baptism of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t even mention the birth of Jesus in any form of the Christmas story. John’s Gospel is similar, but it begins with the prologue, a sort of cosmic sounding poetry talking about creation coming to being through Christ, the Word of God, then we read about Jesus being Baptized, but again no birth narrative. Matthew’s Gospel starts with a genealogy, then talks about Joseph on the verge of dismissing Mary, but an angel comes in a dream and tells him not to do this, but to name the child, Jesus, which he did. Then it picks up in chapter two with the wise visitors from the east, their conversation with King Herod, another angel or two, this time with warnings, and the family flees to Egypt while the other families in Bethlehem don’t fare so well. Luke’s Gospel is the most descriptive for what we might call a “classic Christmas story.” The mention of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the angel, Gabriel greeting young Mary, and the birth stories of both the young Prophet, John, and the Lord, Jesus. There are shepherds, angel armies, the manger, and then before you know it Jesus is eight days old getting presented in the Temple in Jerusalem and as chapter two finishes Jesus is twelve years old and continues to grow in wisdom and stature. That’s about it. No mention of wise men, no genealogy, no mention of Herod’s tirades.
For the early church the birth of Jesus was really no big deal. Easter was the big deal, the resurrection and celebrating the Lord’s Day was the focus of worship. It took about 1,000 years for Christmas to get noticed in Western Christianity. Francis of Assisi through a small movement on the edge of the Roman Catholic Church was one of the first to put direct emphasis on why the birth of Jesus is so important for the world. St. Francis, the one who made the first creche scenes or manger scenes, recognized that the church up to that point had focused mainly on a condemning God judging the world and sinners offered salvation through the cross. But Francis had experienced war, and had been a tortured prisoner of war. For him, a church also engaging in the Crusades and other wars, just didn’t match up with his transformative experience of God as love, and God’s saving presence as act of love, especially reaching out to the poor and the marginalized. No wonder it’s in Luke, because that is who Luke’s Gospel tries to include through the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.
For St. Francis in the twelfth century, something was missing in the larger theology or teachings of Christianity. The birth of the Prince of Peace, the Incarnation of God, Christ becoming flesh in creation, helps fill this void, and Francis declared a revolutionary message: that the birth of God in the flesh in Jesus is the point at which we as humans realize that God is on our side. Salvation comes in the birth of Jesus just as much as we claim it comes through his death. Christ in the flesh helps us declare that it’s good to be human, and we are blessed to experience life. If human form is worthy of God’s Presence, then we are honored as those created in God’s image. But this spiritual development took over 1,100 years, and actually it is still taking place as Christianity continues to Reform, Awaken, and Emerge.
God is so patient, and if anything echoes through the ages, it is the message of what a difference it makes when the Presence of the living God is recognized. God is there all along, but to face God, to turn to God and awaken to this Presence; this is transformative. For St. Francis it took a war and deep suffering to get his attention. For Joseph, angels came in dreams.
What is it for you? What is your spiritual discipline that helps enlighten your life? How are you being called by God to make room for the birth of Christ? What is God’s love doing in your heart?
Christmas is a special time of year. Love and community, peace and joy, giving and receiving of gifts; all this tells us that something is happening that is worth paying attention to. The stirring of our heart, the quieting of our mind, the yearning of our soul; these are part of the human experience as spiritual beings. The light of God shines in all things, and all things are in God, and at Christmas we are reminded of daily miracles that so often get overlooked or ignored.
As we gather around word and song, and as the candles lights are passed, may the blessing of Christmas fill your heart. The Incarnation of Christ, the unity of God’s holiness on earth, the gift of Jesus who shows us the way to live into this unity without fear; this is what we celebrate every time we say, Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas to you, and may God be glorified, now and forever. Amen.