Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014
Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-14
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
One thing that struck me, as I was listening to the radio this December, was how many Christmas songs are about being home for the holidays. There’s I’ll be Home for Christmas, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays, and many others. They’re all very heartwarming, and they really strike a chord with me, because I’m so far from home myself. I, too, am going home for the holidays, but not until tomorrow, obviously. And I can’t wait to see my family and friends, do all the Christmas things my family has postponed until I can get there, have a big ham dinner with all the trimmings.
But let’s not forget that when Joseph and Mary headed to Bethlehem for the first Christmas, that wasn’t the kind of homecoming they were expecting. I mean, obviously, they were Jewish, so they wouldn’t have been eating ham. But even though Bethlehem was Joseph’s home town, the town his family was from, there was no welcome for them there. None of his family opened their arms to the holy family; nobody offered them the guest bedroom or even a spot on the living-room floor. No one invited them in for a big family meal. And so they ended up in the stable. As you’re gathering with family and friends, think of that. Being in your own home town, with nobody to take you in. That’s what happened to Mary and Joseph, and to too many people in this world.
Now, we don’t know why nobody welcomed Mary and Joseph in. Maybe most of the family had moved away from Bethlehem, as Joseph had. Maybe there were only a few of his kin living in town, and they were already full up—although I don’t know about you, but I would imagine that most families, if a family shows up expecting a baby, they find a place for the mom-to-be even if they have to turf out somebody else. But maybe Joseph’s family just didn’t want to make room for them. Maybe they knew that Mary had been pregnant before she and Joseph married, and maybe they were punishing them for the shame and scandal of it. Maybe they didn’t want to associate with those kinds of people, or maybe they didn’t want their kids exposed to that sort of thing. I don’t know why; the Bible doesn’t tell us. But when Joseph and Mary went back to Joseph’s family’s home town, they had to go to the inn. And the innkeeper didn’t have room for them, either. Maybe his inn was bursting at the seams. Maybe he knew about the scandal. Maybe he thought that it would be better for Mary to have some privacy as she was giving birth—privacy she wouldn’t have gotten in an inn where there were probably several families in each room. Whatever the reason, Mary and Joseph ended up in the barn, and that’s where Jesus was born.
People get so wound up about Christmas. Everything has to be perfect: food, presents, goodies, trees, decorations, music. You hear people talk, and you think that anything less than perfection means utter failure. And if you’re not home, with your family, well, that’s horrible, too. We have this picture of what Christmas should be like, and yet, the first Christmas wasn’t like that at all. Mary and Joseph were far from home, among strangers, without even a hotel room to call their own, with no feast, no goodies, no decorations—no nothing. And that’s how Christ was born. In that lonely stable, God became flesh. God became one of us.
God’s very nature is relationship. God is three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—together in a great dance of love. The first letter of John tells us that God is love, so that we can’t know or understand God without loving other people. We are made in God’s image, which means that we are made for relationship, too. We are made for love. It’s imprinted in the DNA in every cell in our body. And yet, when God became flesh, when the Son took form in Mary’s womb and was born as the infant Jesus, he came to a family alone in the world, isolated from friends and family, away from home.
I think he did that on purpose. Because even though we were created for love, there is a lot of hate in the world. Even though we were created for relationship, there is a lot of isolation in the world. We hurt other people and we hurt ourselves. We think that it’s better to rely on our own skills than to reach out for help even when help is deeply needed. There are people, right now, tonight, who feel desperately alone. Some because they are alone, and some because their family or friends treat them badly. It’s possible to be alone in the midst of a crowd—even among family—if those family hurt you and demean you. And all too often, that’s what we do to one another.
When Jesus was born in that stable, the love of God became real flesh and blood. And I think part of the reason he chose that lonely stable was to show the world that God’s love is not just for those who already have loving families close beside them. God’s love is also for the loners, for the outcasts, for the ones who have nobody or whose family and friends are worse than being alone. God’s love is for everyone, in every country, in every village, in every city. For no matter whether we are white or black, Asian or Latino or Native American or Arab or Pacific Islander, no matter what language we speak, we are all children of God. We are all loved by God. And God comes to us, in the mess and problems of life, just as God came to that stable 2,000 years ago.
I pray that you all have loving families and friends around you. I pray that you all share the love of God with one another this Christmas. But whether you are in the midst of your family or alone, God is with you. Thanks Be To God.