2016 Christmas Eve Sermon preached at St. Peter’s Comox.
Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you.
Bethlehem was clamouring with activity. A show of her universal conquest of the known world, and to count her power and strength, the imperial government of Rome had called for a census. With all the hustle and bustle I imagine on some level the shepherds were happy to be at work. Retreated safely away up in the hills they watched their sheep. The task was fairly straightforward: keep them from wandering off, fend off any wild animals, make sure they have access to good food and still water. The city below was busy but they had their task and their peace.
God had other plans.
For what should appear but an angel of the Lord. I’m not talking about some eight year old girl in a white robe or some porcelain image of tranquility. This was a messenger of Yahweh, the Lord of hosts. This was a mighty soldier fierce and terrifying. The angel appeared cloaked in the brightness and glory of God. And the shepherds were afraid. Why send a soldier? After all these were glad tidings of great joy for all people. Why introduce this news with instruments of war and power and might? Still the shepherds shook with terror as the celestial sentry told them not to be afraid.
Sometimes that’s what its like when God comes into our hearts. Sometimes He is proclaimed in power and majesty. When we conceive He is doing a great thing in us and in the world we can be afraid. Our arms shake, our chests quake within us and our knees beg to buckle that we might fall down before Him.
“Today a child has been born to you, a Saviour” The shepherds may have wondered what it was they needed to be saved from, was it the angel? Perhaps not. For centuries their people had been oppressed and humiliated by foreign peoples who worship foreign idols. The angel aid that this was the Messiah, the anointed one who the prophets said would restore the honour of Zion and the Kingdom of Judah, a Son of David who was a mighty king of legend. Did this mean liberation from Roman oppression? Did it mean the beginning of a revolution begun and won by the power of God’s own hand? He had sent them a soldier hadn’t he?
But much more than a soldier for at that moment there appeared a great company of the heavenly host, a mighty army of the Lord of angel armies appeared proclaiming “Glory be to God on High and in Earth peace, goodwill towards those on whom His favour rests.” Did this mean that at last their people, the descendants of Abraham might stand no longer in humiliation? Would they become at last a beacon and blessing to all nations? They were after all God’s people and he was their God. Was the new age beginning where the presence of God proceeding from Mount Zion would bring the Gentiles of the whole world to forsake their pagan idols and bring offerings to the Lord of Creation instead? The shepherds wondered beholding this great light, and army, and proclamation. Having delivered their message the angel armies disappeared and once more the shepherds were alone in the quiet…away from the noisy city. Had they really seen what they thought they’d seen?
The angel had told them that they would find the baby lying in a manger in town. And so what better way to be reassured of their sanity than to seek him out. It is not everyday that a new born baby is found lying in a trough. I wonder if they were sneaky, quietly with rapid steps searching the streets. Or perhaps did they stop each stranger with urgency asking “HAS ANYONE SEEN A BABY”.
However it happened they found him, this baby lying in squalor who the angel armies proclaimed to be the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.
So does it matter? Is any of it worth a candle? After all the Roman Empire limped on for centuries after its birth. Even when it surrendered Palestine it was not so much liberated as handed over to Muslim warlords. Are we hearing it because its a nice story that leaves us with warm fuzzies? Is it because it makes otherwise rotten people feel like they need to behave themselves? Is it because its a message of liberation that suits our particular political fancies? Is it because this child would one day be some great teacher who ushered in an enlightenment that could just as easily come from Greek philosophy or the Disney corporation? Are we hear because he is some emblem of a sanitary hallmark vision of joy, hope, peace and love? Are we just having a fancy birthday party? Tell me, why does this birthday matter?
This was a birth like no other.
This is the night when the love and kindness of God our Saviour APPEARED. God is love and here before the shepherds’ very eyes was love made manifest. Not an idea but a body, flesh and bone and blood and mucus. Yes this child would begin a revolution. Not a revolution of the sword but the beginning of a new creation. For He saves us through washing of rebirth and renewal with the Holy Spirit.
Do you not see? This night is not just about Jesus’s birth, it is about yours. For before you were at war with heaven but being taken up in him you are made at peace. Before the presence of God was an idea, a story. But now it is the reality in which you live and by which you have light. The world is so turned upside down and rearranged what makes more sense than peace proclaimed for soldiers’ lips. He took this night every inch of our humanity, our fear and our anxiety, our bitterness and our determination, our doubt and our love, and our pain and all of it up into himself. That we might move on higher, that we might be born again into a new being, into Him, into his Spirit.
This is the day we are seized by our birth and our salvation. It is in a sense our birthday.
And the shepherds left having beheld him, telling everyone about what they had seen. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. May he be born in us tonight, and us in him. Amen.