December 24th, 2022, homily for Christmas Eve, by Pastor Galen
The power has been out at our house for the past couple of days. It started yesterday morning when a tree fell on the power lines. We couldn’t get any information about how long it was going to last, but we were heading out the door to go over to my brother’s house anyway, so we didn’t think too much about it. When the power still hadn’t come back on by the evening, we accepted my sister-in-law’s offer to stay at their house overnight, and my wife and I went back to our cold dark house to gather a few belongings for our family to stay the night. A relatively minor disruption in the midst of our wonderful holiday celebrations.
Some of you might have family staying over for the holidays – planned or unplanned. Sleeping on couches or sofas or air mattresses, we often crowd together to experience the joy of the holiday season. We enjoy being together, and we also enjoy going back home to sleep in our own beds when all of it is over.
But for Mary and Joseph, the timing of having to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, could not have been worse. Mary was about to give birth to their first born child, and many people were on the roads traveling due to the taxation and census that were taking place, so I imagine that must not have been a very fun travel experience to say the least.
And then, when they did finally get to Bethlehem and it was time for Mary to give birth to her baby Jesus, there was no room for them in the inn, or guest room, and so she laid her newborn child in a manger – a wooden piece of furniture typically used as a feeding trough for animals.
And so Jesus, the one whom the prophets had foretold, and whom the angel had said would be “great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33 NRSV) was born – not in a palace and laid in a golden cradle, but in the humblest of circumstances. Laid in a manger, to an ordinary couple, in an overcrowded town, temporarily displaced from their home.
And the good news of the Savior’s birth was announced – not by royal heralds blowing trumpets and proclaiming the news in every town and village square throughout the land (as we might expect when a new king was born) – but by an angel, appearing late at night to night watchmen – shepherds – keeping watch over their flocks of sheep at night.
Now, God could have chosen for Jesus to be born anywhere. Anywhere in the world, and at any time in history. The circumstances of the census and taxation and Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem, and the fact that Jesus was born at night and the only people who were awake were shepherds – all of these circumstances I believe could have been avoided. And yet, this was the time and this was the place that God chose for Jesus to be born. All of the prophecies that a Savior would be born were fulfilled in this moment, on this single ordinary night.
And the question is, why? Why wasn’t Jesus born in the palace, and laid in a golden cradle? Why wasn’t he born in a time when modern medicine would have made it a lot easier and safer for Mary to give birth? At the very least, why weren’t they able to give birth to their son in the comfort of their own hometown, surrounded by friends and family?
But in choosing to come and be born as a vulnerable little baby, and at such a vulnerable time and place in history, God demonstrated God’s care and concern for each of us, no matter our situation in life.
You see, many people back then (and still many people today) have this idea that God is angry at them, or that God is distant and cold and uncaring.
But in choosing for Jesus to be born in the humblest of circumstances, to an ordinary man and young woman, in an ordinary town, in less than ideal circumstances, God demonstrated God’s love and care and compassion for each and every one of us. No matter what it is we’re going through, no matter what we’re experiencing, God knows, God sees, and God understands.
God is not some far-off distant deity that we must seek to appease, but rather, God is close in proximity with us. In the overcrowded houses in the village of Bethlehem, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in the midst of our family dramas and societal divisions. No matter what we experience, God is with us.
This is the good news that we proclaim at Christmas. This is the good news that Mary pondered and held in her heart, and believed so strongly that she was willing to carry out her part in the Divine plan. This was the good news the shepherds heard and proclaimed. This was the good news that brought Magi from distant lands to worship the Christ child. This was the good news that some of the politically powerful and elite tried to stifle and blot out because of the threat that it posed to their own positions of authority. And yet is the good news that has continued on down to this day.
One of the favorite parts of this service is when we all light candles. We light the first candle from the Christ candle, and then we pass the flame down the row so that eventually the whole sanctuary is illuminated by the candles that we hold. This is a reminder to me that we each have a part to play in spreading Christ’s light to others.
And so this Christmas, may we be encouraged that no matter what we are going through, God is with us. Let us joyfully proclaim this good news: The Savior has been born!