THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
Christmas Eve Service
FEAT. “Upon A Midnight Clear” Musical:
Presented By: St. Andrew’s Church Choir
Luke 2: 1-14
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 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.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
In the classic Christmas Song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the narrator lists all of the extravagant gifts that his “true love” gave throughout the season:
12 Drummers Drumming.
11 Pipers Piping.
9 Ladies dancing.
7 Swans a Swimming. (and 16 other birds!)
All the way down to the 5 Golden Rings and the Partridge in the Pear Tree.
Written in the 19th Century, more than a hundred years before the invention of our modern high-tech Christmas gifts, this must have been—for the narrator—a good Christmas haul!
Live music and dancing!
And a whole lot of birds.
The gift giver, the “true love” in that song is no doubt a person of means, a person with deep pockets and a generous heart; free to give as extravagantly as they please.
But, in looking at the first Christmas, as we have just heard from Luke’s Gospel, we might wonder: where is this same extravagance and celebration for God’s own son?
The anonymous gift-giver from “The 12 Days of Christmas” pulled out all the stops! They struck up a band, they hired dancers, they made a real party out of it!
But at the first Christmas, there was no fanfare; no dancers dancing, no pipers piping, no drummers drumming, no flocks of birds. Just two poor, weary people, named Mary and Joseph.
And indeed, Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem, not out of their own free will, not out of a desire to fulfill prophecy about the Son of God, but because they are required to by the Empire that is occupying their homeland.
The fourth verse of Luke’s Christmas story reads:
“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.”
Bureaucratic, matter-of-fact – hardly a Christmas party invitation.
When poor Joseph arrived in Bethlehem (at the town of his ancestors), his companion, his co-traveller, his fiancée Mary went into labour.
Finding no room in the inn, these two young, frightened partners took refuge in an animal barn, where she gave birth to a baby boy and laid him in a manger of straw.
Hardly a Christmas party. Or at least, hardly a Christmas party that we or Mary or Joseph would choose to go to if they had a choice in the matter.
The Biblical Christmas story, for as much as it is wrapped up in tinsel and lights, is really an earthy, human kind of story.
It’s a story that calls to mind the feeling of achy muscles; strained after walking too long and carrying too much weight.
It’s a story that brings up earthy smells. The smell of dusty dirt roads, of the grime left by a thousand footprints, of oily, dirty hair, of clothes worn too long; of garments and bodies in bad need of a wash.
It’s a story that calls to mind the dull ache of mind that comes from just wanting to rest, and being told that there’s no room for you in the inn.
And finally, it’s a story that that conjures the sweat, groans, and cries of childbirth that serve as the fanfare for all who enter this world, mixed with the smell of straw that welcomes only the poorest and the most humble.
No. The first Christmas was not a party in the way that we recognize the word, but in God’s signature, paradoxical way: it was an acknowledgement that the child born that evening was as humble and as human and as earthy as any person has claim to be.
At Christmas, we celebrate the day that God became flesh and dwelt among us.
We celebrate the occasion that God saw fit to take on humanity for Himself in Jesus Christ; to be born with our birth, to commit to living our life and dying our death, so that coming as close as possible, God would reveal Himself to us and cleanse us of our sins.
On His first night in human flesh Our Lord experienced what every person throughout time has- or will- experience: the first experience of being human.
Drawing the first breath.
Crying the first cry.
Suckling the first meal.
Sleeping the first sleep.
God who made the stars and the heavens themselves.
God who set the world on its axis.
God who made the first covenant with Abraham.
God who dwelt in Israel from captivity to liberation and back again.
This same God took on the flesh of humanity’s most humble and vulnerable for our sake:
Arriving into the world in a manger of hay, greeted only by animals and his frightened, exhausted parents.
He arrived with no fanfare, no music, no dancing, no celebration. Not even a proper roof over His head.
Wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger of hay, he spent his first night on earth with the only two people who knew or cared that he had arrived.
…or so we think…
Luke tells us that at that moment, far out in the fields, there were shepherds working the night shift; keeping watch over their flocks, who were suddenly amazed to see an angel standing before them!
Quaking with fear, they stared wide-eyed as the angel gave its greeting:
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Why does God forego the extravagance of a Christmas party in favor of a humble manger?
Why do God’s angels go to the shepherds of the land—the labourers—to tell them the good news of the Savior?
Why does God arrive into the world in Jesus Christ and announce that He has done so through-and-with people who are:
humble instead of proud?
Poor instead of rich?
Lowly instead of important?
Isolated instead of supported?
Why do God’s angels sing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom he favors” to the earthiest people he can find?
Because these are the people whom he favours!
Because Christ came precisely for these people!
Because Christ came precisely for us!
For the humble
For the poor
For the weary
For the aching
For the frightened
For the disenfranchised
For those who dwell and toil in the earthiest parts of our humanity
These are God’s people.
These are who God chooses to bear His Christmas gift;
these are who God chooses to raise Himself on their breast and to teach him on their knee.
These are who God chooses to announce His coming into the world at Christmas.
Friends, tonight is Christmas. The time when Jesus Christ is born into our world once again, as every year.
The Good News is that in Christ Jesus God dwells with and among us.
The Good News is that God meets us where we are.
The Good News is that God enters the earthiest parts of our lives in order to offer us His Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
The Good News is that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does NOT overcome it.
The Good News is that God came low so that we may be raised with Him on high.
Merry Christmas my friends. God bless you, and keep you, God lift up His face to shine upon you and bring you His peace. Merry Christmas!