I often re-read previous sermons as part of my preparation.
This year I was struck while re-reading the message from last year
that I could easily just “re-use” it. I won’t though.
But I did decide that I could share it here on my blog.
Almost two years ago Scott and I moved into a house in the historic district, which is also Christmas Tree Lane. We very much enjoyed decorating the outside of our house the last two years and this year we’ve happened upon a new tradition of eating dinner on the porch while watching the people go by… and we’ve seen a lot of people go by. It seems as if there are many more people visiting the neighborhood than last year.
Scott and I were talking about it and decided that maybe the increased visitors is a sign… a sign of a better economy maybe? I read this morning that for the first time since 2007 more people than not are optimistic about the economy. Or maybe, slightly related, the increased traffic is a sign that lower gas prices have made even the shortest trips more affordable. Or maybe it’s just that there is not so much good news lately and so celebrating Christmas is a welcome diversion.
Whatever the reason, I’m happy to see everyone happily walk by. I’m happy to see you all here tonight celebrating as well… maybe you too have been thinking about signs lately. You see, they are all over the news, they are all over Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and wherever else you look. Not subtle signs… like increased numbers of people visiting the neighborhood. But overt signs… signs that have served to divide an already divided people.
Internationally, we have ISIS and their extreme violence that successfully terrorizes those who are near and far. In Mexico and Pakistan recently we’ve seen the mass murder of students, young people and children, while in Nigeria girls who sought an education were kidnapped and are still missing. Are these signs that our world is out of control?
In our own country we’ve seen many sighs of unrest… especially in relation to race and law enforcement. So we see:
Black lives matter… hands up, don’t shoot… I can’t breathe… and most recently, in the wake of the tragic shooting of two police officers last week, police lives matter.
The sense that I get from these signs, and postings that go along with them in various places is that we are to choose sides. That calling for better policing in the wake of too many unarmed black men dying is tantamount to attacking the police. If this is true, then I don’t see much hope for the future. But what if it weren’t true? What if there was another sign that supersedes all that we have seen and experienced?
You’ve heard the children read the Christmas story. It is the same story that we read every Christmas Eve… as it is the only story of Jesus’ birth in the gospels. Back when I was younger and never went to church, except maybe on Christmas and Easter, this was one of the only stories I heard in church… since I was never there.
So, it is familiar… maybe even so familiar that we don’t really hear it anymore. As I was reading it again this week, I noticed that the actual birth of Jesus only warranted two sentences…
6While they were there (Bethlehem), the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Two sentences… we’ve sure found many creative ways to fill out that story. But I’m wondering why they could find no place at the inn…they were in Bethlehem because of a census… because Jacob’s family was from there… so wouldn’t he have had some, even distant relatives, who would take them in?
Maybe there was no room because Jacob and Mary weren’t married yet…and so her pregnancy was a sign of her sinfulness…and nobody wanted to be associated with that. You see, the story of Jesus’ birth is just one example of or one sign of… all the ways we, as human being judge and divide one another. All of us, at one time or another, have experienced the isolation of being judged unworthy by others, or by ourselves.
Of course this is speculation… about Mary because the story doesn’t give us details… but it is speculation based upon knowledge of the day. What’s not speculation is that the first to hear the news of this wondrous birth were not the rich and powerful… no, the first to hear were other social outcasts who were out guarding their flocks.
I love to imagine their surprise at witnessing the visit of the angels… first one and then a multitude. And with this visit the shepherds were told about Jesus’ birth. Interestingly the visit of the angels was not the sign… no they were just the messengers. The sign was actually the little baby. What was he a sign of? What the angels said…
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
That is the good news, because you see the Messiah is the Christ… who will lead and teach and love us so much that he will take all the sin… all the hurt… all the division… all the violence in the world with him to the cross… but that’s a story for another day.
Meanwhile, we celebrate the baby, who is the sign… and who brings us a special light with which we can read other signs. Many years later Jesus would tell us that the law of God is summarized in this: Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
We learn though, that it is difficult to love our neighbors… and sometimes it is difficult to love ourselves. Thankfully we don’t have to do it on our own strength. Because you see, Jesus has not only given us love in abundance but also his spirit to help us. This is the good news of Christmas… and of Easter… and of every day in between.
My hope and my prayer is that we can harness the power of this love so that we can enter a new year refreshed and renewed and ready to listen to our brothers and our sisters in ways that will lead to better understanding. My hope and my prayer is that rather than participate in what divides us we can live the grace that Jesus gives and be peacemakers in our communities.
Because when we think about the miracle of Jesus’ presence and the love that is for the whole world we realize that the ultimate sign to us from God is that you are important, you are precious… regardless of your race, language, sexual orientation or creed. You are precious, not because you’ve done anything to deserve, it but solely because God loves you.