Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Unto You A Child Is Born --- CHRISTMAS EVE 2013

Dec 24, 2013
Unto You A Child Is Born

Luke 2:1-20   (NRSV)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And 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.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke is my favorite version of the Gospel.

To me, Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth is the “real one” --- and for me, it would not be Christmas without hearing it.

Luke adds all those wonderful details that make the story come alive.

Luke’s wealth of names --- dates --- places --- and events animate the ancient world, making it seem less like scripture and more like story time

What would it be like if we put Luke’s gospel into a more current historical context --- would that help bring Luke a little closer to home?

In the sixth year of the administration of President Barak Obama, when Mike Pence was governor of the State of Indiana, when Joe Simonetto, John Reed, John Edington, David Nellens and Andy Koultourides were town Council of Munster, during the time when Mike Coyner was Bishop of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Word of the Lord came to . . . YOU!

And you went out into your neighborhood,
         Appeared before your town council,
Proclaiming the good news of a great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is the messiah, the Lord.

Suddenly ---- the beginnings of the Christmas story seem a bit too real --- don’t they?

It is so much more comfortable and cozy to just read Luke’s version ---- to feel the life pulsing through ancient characters and too sit here safely in the 21st century and know that this happened --- like Star Wars tells us ---- “Long ago and far away” . . .

We don’t want the Christmas story too up close and personal

Because if it becomes too close and too personal --- it might expect something from us!

There is an apocryphal story that during the Civil War in America, --- during one of the worst times of the war as Grant was driving on Richmond.
This was in 1864 and Grant’s troops had been unable to successfully take Petersburg VA, so an almost year long siege was set up.
On Christmas Eve, 1864 --- for whatever reason the continuous battle ceased.
There was no official truce, but both sides withdrew their pickets, and throughout Christmas day Union a Confederate bands exchanged tunes
including renditions of "Dixie by the Yankees and
"Yankee Doodle" by the Rebels

During the day word had passed across the lines that Union General James Stedman's wife had delivered that morning a baby girl.

Word must have spread, because later that day Confederate General William
Malone, considered by many to be one of the toughest fighters in either army, who then commanded the entire sector, sent a messenger across the lines to convey his respects to Mrs. Stedman and her new baby girl.
Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given;
And the government will be upon his shoulder.
And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Have you ever gone to visit someone who just had a baby.

When you get there everybody goes to see the baby and says all kinds of dumb things like:
"My doesn't he look cute?"
"He looks just like you"
"I think he has your eyes"

Then comes the moment you either long for or fear, depending on your temperament.

When they ask you: "Do you want to hold the baby?"

For many people, that is a great moment.
They love to.
They want to.

But for others, it is a bit scary.

There is always the fear that I will drop the little guy.
What if he cries? --- What do I do then?

Worse yet, what if he spits up?

What if some bodily function, that he has been saving up suddenly erupts?

Then you start asking yourself: how long will I have this child?

Because, once you are holding a child, it is pretty bad form after a few seconds to say
"OK, I'm done --- take the kid back".

Some of us long for those moments when we get to hold the child.
We love it and yet others fear it.

In both cases, it is because of the same reason --- when you hold a baby, that baby becomes real to you.

When you hear about a baby, or even see a baby from across the room, the child is still just some kid in theory to you.

You may believe it is a child,
but as long as it is kept at a safe distance - it really can't effect you.

But when you hold the baby, in some small way you are making a commitment.

You are committing to being careful, and gentle, and even committing to holding that child until someone takes it away.

And when you feel that warm bundle in your arms, well, then it is real in a way that it was not before.
It is not theoretical at all, but one of the most real things in the world.
In that moment, all of your joys, as well as your fears and feelings of inadequacy come to mind

I remember when each of my girls were born.

I was there in the delivery room and when they were born, the doctor turned and said "Mr. Conger, would you like to hold your daughter?"

It should have been an easy question, but it was anything but easy.
At that moment I did not feel adequate, or responsible enough, or mature enough to be a father.

Yet there was the question, I could say yes or no.
But if I said yes, I was saying yes to a whole lot more than just holding a newborn child.

That is what Christmas is all about,
so much of our worship tends to put God at a distance.

We sing and talk about God in the third person.

We throw around ideas, concepts, and philosophical theology in a way that makes God a God in theory.

But in Christmas, God gets beyond all that, and God comes down to us in the flesh.

Nothing theoretical here.
God in undeniable reality.

Yet we still make God theoretical by putting the advent at a safe time and distance.

Jesus birth is someplace else, and at some other time.

Yet the word of the angel is,
"Unto you is born THIS DAY in the city of David a savior."
Not just here and then, but here and now.

And if you dare to really believe that, if you dare in your heart to come to the
manger, then God will ask the inevitable question:
“do you want to hold the baby?”

Would you like to experience the Christ child in undeniable reality in your life?
Do you want to go past the nice ideas, and find a child that is God in flesh?

And we come that awkward moment, and God asks, and if we are honest, we might have a variety of feelings.

For some of us, the answer is an immediate YES!!  Yes. Yes. yes.

But for some of the rest of us,
we come with some fears --- as well as the longing.
If I say yes to the child, what will be required of me?
Am I worthy?
Am I good enough?
How long will I have to hold this child?

The fears are natural.

And the answer to our first fears is probably no,
we are not good enough,
or holy enough,
or together enough.
But that is OK.
Neither were the shepherds,
or the wise men,
and maybe not even Mary and Joseph.
But the gift of the child does not depend on our worthiness. It is because of God's goodness.

And how long will you hold this child?
Well, maybe forever.
Maybe this yes is an eternal one.

But that is OK too ---- because our yes to that question is echoed by God's yes for us.

And in the end, this child that we hold, will come to hold us, through all the uncertain times ahead.

For that child came as God's reality for us.

He came to love, and show us what God is like up close and personal.

He came as God in the flesh to live for us, and heal us, and to die for us --- and most importantly --- to show us how to REALLY live.

The child born in the manger for us tonight is the same child that gave his life for us.

He came on Christmas, and he comes tonight.

But the question --- and God's offer remains

Would you like to hold the baby?

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