Thursday, December 24, 2020
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
Psalm 96 – (Joy to the World)
Titus 2:11-14 The grace of God has appeared
Luke 2:1-20 God with us
Title: Crude Rude, and Confused
Although that stable; that hay-filled, manure-smelling, barely-fit-for-a-beast stable has been tidied up and sanitized in our creches, we must remind ourselves it was a barn. A filthy place that is never clean, always crude, devoid of anything that makes it suitable for a baby to be born in it.
Although those shepherds; those foul-mouthed, weathered and rough, tough and coarse shepherds have been cleaned up in our carols, made proper for the pictures on our cards, and made bath-robed adorable in our pageants; we must remind ourselves that no one was thinking about them that night in Jerusalem or even in Bethlehem. They were laborers taking on one of the most undesirable and uncouth jobs. Probably couldn’t do anything else, had no other skill. They were certainly the last ones that anyone would have guessed would be the first ones to hear the news of this baby’s birth.
Although that couple; frightened and confused, challenged and exhausted, homeless and strangers in their own land, Mary and Joseph have too easily been portrayed as perfect, as blindly willing, as unquestioning, too at peace with this whole leap of faith challege, too living creche passive; we must remind ourselves that they were people like you and like me. Their understanding of the Divine was as limited as anyone else’s (despite the angel visitations). And saying YES to that mystery was as doubt-filled and hesitant for them as it is for all of us. (I don’t say would be because we all are called to say YES in faith, whether or not angels are involved.)
Crude, rude, and confused. Yes, this is the year that we must look beyond precious Christmas and see it for what it truly is. (I don’t often use the word must, but tonight, I say it boldly and pastorally.) For this is the year that many of us are asking: Where is Jesus? And it is the witness of that barn, those shepherds, and that couple that can answer the question for us if we explore that real story, the harsh story, the chaotic story rather than the alternative story that tradition, Hallmark, pageants, and our hunger for happiness have created.
Hear the good news. It’s not pretty, it’s not cozy, it’s not clean, it’s not respectable, it’s not even clear. To a world that is literally sick with disease, in a land that is racked by a long history of white supremacy, a nation sick with the immorality of racism, sexism, and too many -isms to name this night, to a humanity that is asking in desperation: Where is Jesus, the good news that honestly lights up this Christmas night could not be more needed.
The good news coming out of that barn, that raw and ramshackle barn is that if we can find Jesus there – the last place you expect to find God, then we can certainly find Jesus in the COVID wards filled with suffering and death, the care homes filled with the forlorn and the lonely, our own homes in which we are daily challenged like never before. Jesus of the barn is the Jesus of the least expected places is the Jesus who is with us now.
And the good news coming from those shepherds, ruffians though they be is that this news of God’s word coming to earth, taking on our flesh, living our life, is meant for everyone. It’s not only for those who understand it, or study it, can explain it, or are at peace with it, or even who believe it. Those angels who sang over the fields that were stinking of beasts and human beings, are coming to us now. Us, who are sad or glad, who are spent or energized, who are depressed or at peace, who are anxious or comforted, who are privileged or oppressed. To all of us, they are saying: FEAR NOT, hear the good news. Jesus, sent from the God who loves creation, is born for all people, lives in all people, is present, now, in your midst.
And that couple, that poor couple, the good news coming from them is captured in one word: YES. They didn’t say yes because they had all the details to the plan. They didn’t say yes to a roadmap laying out each step. They didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. (The kid was barely even born, and Joseph is told that they can’t go back to their home in Nazareth and that they have to run away to Egypt.) But in faith through the power of the Holy Spirit working in them, they said yes. Because they did say YES, there was Jesus, in their midst. In our midst. In the midst of this world that is crying out so loudly it doesn’t hear the baby’s cry.
Focus your 2020 vision on the good news of God that is proclaimed in this story that we think we know so well.
Bundle up all your pain and disappointment, your doubts and your fears, your feelings of abandonment and loneliness, your heartbreaking loss and your pandemic fatigue. And do not tuck them away in some brightly wrapped package. Instead, bring it all to that ragged and raw stable is that God chooses as an entry point to mysteriously interweave the human and the divine. And interweaving that results in a new experience for God and a new life for us. As beat up as you may feel by life, come and run with the shepherds to see what God has done, is doing, and will do. And as challenged and even faithless as you may feel, come and sit with that couple who are looking into the face of Jesus and asking: What now?
And just maybe we can find peace knowing that his infant face that is filled with newborn hope is the loving face of God looking back at you and saying: I am with you. I love you. You are mine. Do not be afraid.
The Rev. Mark Erson,