Christmas Christmas

Greetings! Merry Christmas! I pray your heart is filled with love and peace today.
Soak in the splendor of a God who comes and dwells among us.

Here's a link to today's column. It contains a bit of the history of the hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

And here's the Christmas Eve sermie.

Gospel: Luke 2:1-20

Sermon Title: Really Good News

Christmas Eve is such a special night here at Zion and around the world. People everywhere are entering into places of worship. And we all bring with us our own set of emotions and stories and journeys.

For some, Christmas Eve is all about excitement and anticipation. For others, it’s a time of peace and quiet. There are families for whom tonight's activities been a continuation of many years of tradition. There are other families and individuals who for various reasons are trying out new traditions this year. For some, this year meant the welcome of a new family member through a birth or a marriage. For others, this year meant saying goodbye to someone dearly loved. We bring our individual stories with us tonight. But there is a common thread that unites us all our stories – and that’s Jesus. We are united tonight with people all around the world by the story we all came to hear.

Our hearts are turned to the story of one specific family in Bethlehem. We came here tonight knowing that the story we would hear would be a familiar one. The story of Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph. A precious child in a manger. Like the angel announced to the shepherds, we came here today to hear “Good news of great joy for all the people.” The Christmas scene is one that warms our hearts and brings peace to our spirits.

It is also a scene that tonight invites us to dig a little deeper. Perhaps there is more than what first meets the eye. There are many layers to the Christmas story – and under every layer is a message of really good news.

I have some friends here in Stewartville who bought a home a few years ago. It was a home with a lot of history – and specifically a history of many painting and wall-papering projects. I remember going to visit while they were in the middle of a remodeling project in their dining room. There were layers upon layers of paint and wallpaper that they were scraping through. Each layer peeled away and revealed more of the home's history. It took a lot of work and patience to get through the layers.

The Christmas story has a lot of layers of deep meaning. We can glance at it quickly and certainly appreciate it. But if we draw near – and really sit down with this scene for awhile – slowly peel away some of the layers – our connection to the good news of Jesus birth grows even deeper. That’s our goal tonight. To peel away at some of the layers and explore the depths of the Christmas story. The get at the depths of the good news….good news that speaks to as a large group – but also good news for our individual lives.

There’s Mary. We imagine her young and faithful. Sitting beside the manger. But if we peel back a few of the layers around Mary’s story and life, we recognize that there is so much more there to value and appreciate. Mary’s faithfulness is beyond words. She was engaged to be married and found out she was going to have a baby. Socially and culturally, that must have been so challenging. And yet she willingly stepped forward into the great unknown. It’s good news that God empowers us to keep moving, to step out in faith, even when we don’t what’s ahead. And we peel away the layers around the night of Jesus’ birth – there is Mary, fully pregnant, and she has to travel to a place where they don’t even have a place to stay. Mary and Joseph, in desperation, end up putting their newborn child in an animal feeding tough. It’s good news for our lives that God works in mysterious and surprising ways. An animal feeding tough can become a throne for a newborn king! That’s how surprising God really is! God uses the ordinary parts of our ordinary lives to do extraordinary things.

There’s Joseph, too – and so many layers around Joseph’s story, which Pr. Byron preached on so wonderfully Sunday. I wish we knew more about Joe. What we do know, is that he trusted God deeply. When Joseph proposed to Mary, he certainly would have had a vision in his mind for what their marriage and life would be like. Never could he have guessed that Mary would become pregnant with the son of God! And Joseph had to adapt. And he did. It’s good news of for all of us – God is with us in the midst of life’s challenges. In the midst of the moments when we have a vision for our lives and the plans change – and we have to adapt – God is right there with us, giving us hope for the future.

And we can peel layers around those shepherds out in the field. They are more than friendly sheep herders. They were hard workers. Dirty job. Slept outside. Limited family connections. They were often looked down upon by others. And who hears the good news of Jesus’ birth first? The shepherds. God entered into their story – their night – their usual routine – and said: “WAKE UP! YOU’RE INCLUDED! YOU GUYS ARE PART OF THE STORY!” It’s good news - a reminder to us all that our God is a God who INCLUDES people. All people. Into the story. The shepherds were included. And we are included. And so is everyone else.

There are layers to peel back at every stop along the way – and the more we peel back, the more good news is exposed.

We all entered this place tonight with stories and layers of life – and when we peels those layers away, we all share a common longing for God’s good news to connect with our daily lives. We long for acceptance. Purpose. Forgiveness. Jesus is all these things.

Tonight, God invites us all to travel to Bethlehem and gather around a manger. We are invited to be present. And listen. And watch. And breathe. Year after year, this manger scene is where we are reminded of some really good news.

Jesus is born. And with him comes eternal hope – and the promise of God’s nearness to us tonight and always. Amen.