Saturday, December 24, 2016
Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 9:2-7 Light shines: a child is born for us
Titus 2:11-14 The grace of God has appeared
Luke 2:1-14 – 20 God with us
Sermon: Our Poverty, God’s Abundance
It is an ancient story, a story told through the ages, a story told throughout our lives. Perhaps you even helped to act it out in your younger days with wings on your back or towel and rope imitating turban on your head. The story is told over and over again. The details so familiar to us – parents-to-be searching for a birthing place, no room in any inn, shepherds in the fields, and angel choir lighting up the night sky. Everything and everyone are there, every year. The familiarity brings us comfort, lulls us into peace, inspires our sweet carols, maybe even stimulates moist eyes or lump in the throat. And it should, because it is a beautiful love story of the actions of a loving God who is so perfect in mercy that giving up on creation is just not an option. And so God sends God’s self into the murk and the mire, the chaos and the conflicts.
Yes, this ageless story is consistent with its themes and it elements, but the context in which we are hearing it is always changing. Those pageant kids of blessed innocence were free to focus on the cute baby, the sweet smelling hay, and the fuzzy animals gathered round. As adults, perhaps this story has become the signal flare that points to the abundance of the season. Abundance of things to do, people to connect with, gifts to buy, food to prepare, decorations to unpack one more time, abundance of good cheer, warm memories, and cherished moments.
I don’t know about you, but this year I am coming into this familiar story from a very different place, with a different view point. I am not being drawn to the abundance – oh, sure, there is still everything of the season that has always been, food, fellowship, fine decorations, and gift giving and receiving. But this year, that abundance seems to have lost some of its power to distract, and I keep getting drawn instead towards and into the poverty of the story.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense for God to work with people of power and privilege? Wouldn’t it have had more of an impact if God had come to a young princess, living in the comforts of a palace, carrying with her the authority of her family, having the renown of her name and her position? Wouldn’t that have been useful not only with God’s insistent entry by birth but also with the later ministry and proclamation?
But that is not how God works. Not tonight. Not ever. God is present with the young couple, foreigners in their own occupied country, subjects to a distant, uncaring authority, refugees looking for a temporary home in the hour of their greatest need. God is present in a young mother with a questionable pregnancy. While others turn backs and close doors, God is working through her in unique and intimate ways so that salvation for all might come into the world, a light might shine in our collective darkness, a peace beyond understanding might be spread, and a life that conquers death might be born and shared.
God is present with the doubt-filled young father who is working at trusting with all his might. Trusting that what his young bride is telling him is the truth. Working at trusting that the angel dream that assured him God was in this was not just so much wishful thinking, but was indeed the truth he was going to hang the rest of his life on. God is present even in the poverty of faith, in the lacking of trust, in the abundance of doubts.
God is present in the agony and the birthing that happens in the less than ideal conditions. Whether God coming into the world is in the form of a baby, a movement calling for justice, a ministry to the forgotten, a community of faith living out their call to stand with the oppressed, or a resistance movement that stands up against a corrupt government. God is present in the poverty that brings on hardship, struggle, and pain for the sake of God’s kingdom.
And this good news of God’s presence is brought first to the ones the world has forgotten, those the world judges unworthy, uncouth, untouchable. Those shepherds in the field would not have been included on anyone’s invite list for a baby shower, but, in their poverty, they are at the top of the list for receiving a birth announcement from our God of mercy and compassion.
The prophet Isaiah tells the people who have experienced poverty of light, on whom God has now shined upon, that they should rejoice as with the joy of those who experience a great harvest, not rejoice because of a great harvest. And they should exult as those who have won a great victory, not exult because they have won a great victory. For God has provided for us a harvest of love and peace, God has won for us a victory of life and hope. For unto us who are impoverished, a child has been born, a son is given. His name is Jesus, he is Immanuel – God with us. This is the abundance of God, the fullness of which is best witnessed through the eyes of our own poverty.
And it came to pass in those days…a poor couple, a baby in a barn, ruffian shepherds receive the news. At the center of this timeless story is our poverty, our world’s wanting and needing, our lives crying out for fulfillment and meaning, our own longing for purpose and identity, and into that poverty God’s abundance is born in the baby who is Jesus, lighting up our manure-stenched barns, comforting needy immigrants and refugees, working in and through unknown and undocumented people, working through us, assuring us even in the midst of our doubts, honoring forgotten migrants out in the fields, honoring each one when feeling forgotten by the world, telling us all the good news that is for the whole world.
What is the poverty that you are carrying tonight? Where is your deepest longing, your darkest fear, your hungriest need? Lay it before the hay filled manger, the poorest of places that now holds the most precious gift of God – the grace of God in flesh appearing – the child named Jesus, who is the Christ, the son of God bringing salvation to all, bringing light to our dark world, bringing hope to our deepest despair, bringing peace to our most troubled anxiety, bringing life even to our death.
The poverty at the heart of the story is ours. The abundance that fills the story is God’s – and now, in Jesus’ name, and by his grace made known to us through the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s abundance is ours. Oh, come let us adore our savior and king.
The Rev. Mark Erson,