*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered….
You may be expecting a story tonight.
For the past three years, the first here in person and then the past two years online, I have told stories, modern versions of the Christmas story. However, tonight will be a bit different. Rather than something that sounds like a Vinyl Cafe story, we are going to tell and hear the Christmas story with new ears to year and new eyes to see. As the angels said to the Shepherds:
Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people
2022 has been another rough year in a succession of rough years. In the fall of 2021, we were heading into 2022 hoping that it would be finally a relief from pandemic and a return to normalcy. Instead we got more pandemic, and then war in Ukraine and not long after refugees landing in our homes and neighbourhoods, there were convoys and debates over public health measures, there were supply chain issues, rising price of gas and inflation. It feels like we have been battered by one thing after another this year.
As we arrive at Christmas this year, we are reeling from all we have lived through again this year and stumbling into what comes next.
So maybe for you Christmas is just the same old, same old time for family, traditions and memories this year.
But it is probably NOT the case that for most of us. Christmas may be lacking something this year. It feels a little more like a struggle than it is supposed to. The magic just isn’t there for all the reasons that these past years have been so difficult.
And we think that Christmas is supposed to have that special quality, that feeling of being different than the normal and mundane things of every day life. Christmas is supposed to lift our spirits, remind us of better things, be a time for sentimentalism and warm fuzzies. It is like that Christmas Card with Mary gazing lovingly down at newborn Jesus – it should melt our hearts. It should feel like that special moment when we all sing silent night to candlelight, – glowing faces all around.
But this year it hasn’t been those things. Maybe tonight was supposed to be the chance to reclaim what Christmas is supposed to be… And certainly being here in person for the first time since 2019 is wonderful…. But it isn’t the same, it is NOT just picking up from the world of 2019 as if the past two years haven’t happened.
But here is the thing about all of that.
The Christmas story that we know, the one that goes along with silent night, kids dressed up in cute costumes for the pageant, family traditions waiting at home and presents under the tree… that isn’t exactly the real version of Christmas either.
All the nostalgia is less about Christmas than we think. In fact, all those things that we listed earlier that made 2022 such a hard year… they speak more to Christmas than we know.
When we hear that familiar story from Luke that we just read… it is easy to imagine the Christmas pageant or TV version.
But the very first line of story takes us to something a little more 2022 than we might be comfortable with.
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”
Today, we know what it is to have our political leaders make declarations that turn our life upside down. Whether it is soldiers marching across borders into neighbouring countries, or central banks increasing interest rates, or public health orders affecting how we work, study or travel.
Mary and Joseph too had no choice but to get up and go, when ordered by the empire. Baby on the way or not, inconvenient to life or not – their lives were thrown into chaos by the order of the Emperor.
Today, we bear witness to poverty around the world and here in our streets, on the TV and in our bus shelters. Mary and Joseph too had no safe place to stay. No safe place to give birth, but rather the part of a house or cave used to shelter the animals. This is where the mother of God was forced to give birth.
Then once the ordeal of child birth is over, a gang of Shepherds showed up. Not the cute ones wearing bathrobes that we imagine. But shepherds who were the dregs of society, more like drug dealers and addicts, not good and polite neighbours bringing casseroles, not well meaning aunts who stop by the hospital with flowers. Rather is was misfits and riff riff who are the first to worship this newborn child.
Today, we know the stories of violence against women and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Mary is a teenage mom with an older man looking after her and her child despite not being the baby’s father. Jesus is born into the kind of situation where would we expect child and family services to intervene. Yet, this is the family that God chooses to care for the Messiah.
Once the baby is born and somehow the holy family has survived everything…Mary and Joseph are left on their own, left to escape corrupt Kings and authoritarian regimes all by themselves.
None of this sounds like the familiar Christmas, does it?
Except this IS the Christmas story.
And it is IMPORTANT that this IS the Christmas story.
Because the warm fuzzy version is not what our world needs. The shopping and carols and movies and lights strung up might make us feel good, they may even bring a certain joy and hope to our dark December…. but the TV version of the Christmas story will not save the world. It will not save us from all the things we need saving from.
Instead in Mary and Joseph’s story we can connect to elements of our own, that we can see the ways in which our world has not changed.
This fact means that if God can be born to a teen mom and a step dad in 1st century occupied Israel, surely God can be born in our world.
That Jesus is found in families fleeing Roman or Russian soldiers.
That Jesus is found in Bethlehem mangers and Winnipeg bus shelters.
That the holy family is found in those struggling to put food on the table, struggling to afford Christmas presents, struggling to just hold it all together when this supposed to be the happiest time of the year.
As much as we want the magic of Christmas,
The world needs the Messiah to be born,
The Christ who is willing to go and be found in real Christmas places.
God in Christ is willing to be born among us in order that we can see that God has come near. Near to us in the ways and places that we need most. God comes near, God joins in creation, taking on our flesh to show us that we are not left alone to sort out this crazy world. That we go into the night with God along side us, that God is facing the dangers with us, that surviving our world, that confronting sin and death is precisely where God is with us.
2022 might not feel much like Christmas as we know it, but it just might be the closest to the first Christmas we have ever been.
The story that we tell tonight is so much bigger and so much deeper than the feelings we try to recreate at this time of year. The real Christmas story, the real story of Jesus’s birth in our world is about all the feelings that we don’t want to have this time of year. It is about the fact that God comes to into a world that needs joy and hope and light.
So just as those Angels proclaimed: Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid if Christmas doesn’t feel like we think if should this year…. because it is precisely into this world of ours full of difficulty, hardship and struggle that Jesus is born. Born in the city of David, born here among us this night.