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For Unto You is Born This Day

For Unto You is Born This Day

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I’m not a big decorator when it comes to Christmas, but I come from a family that goes all out; to the point where my parents, for years, had not one, but two Christmas trees.

My mom’s was the peaceful tree; all white lights with tasteful gold and silver ornaments.

My dad’s was the joyful tree with colored lights that blinked and bubbled, every glitter coated macaroni angel we’d ever assembled in grade school, and tinsel.

So. Much. Tinsel.

Until they got a cat who liked to eat tinsel. So much tinsel that when Murray would go do his business and then tear off from the litter box as cats are wont to do, they stopped calling him Murray and started calling him “Comet.”

Yeah, I’m going to let you process that for a moment…just like poor Murray.

My parents couldn’t choose between peaceful or joyful, so they didn’t. They wanted it all… and on a night like this, I think we do too.

Peace at home and peace on earth. Joy aflame in our hearts as we sit in the warm glow of a tree surrounded by those we love, everyone getting along beautifully while snow falls on snow… we want all of that at Christmas.

So much so, that a lot of us feel like we can’t have a real Christmas without it. Christmas just won’t feel like Christmas, we fear, unless everything is perfect, even though we all know there has never been a perfect Christmas… for anyone… ever.

There has been a lot written of late about the disconnect between people’s expectations of this holiday and the reality that for many us such expectations can feel not only unrealistic but almost cruel.

For those of us who are grieving or suffering, wrestling with debt or depression, estranged from family, far from friends, deeply concerned about the state of the world, or living even now under the threat of violence, visions of a perfect Christmas can feel both tone deaf and unobtainable.

They can leave us feeling, like Mary and Joseph, as if there is no room for us in the inn.

But that’s just it. The actual story of Christmas, the story we’ve gathered here to remember tonight, is not the story of a happy little family enjoying peace at home or peace on earth.

It is the story of a poor and oppressed people living under occupation in Palestine.

It is the story of a very strange family struggling to hold it all together.

We call them the holy family now, but come on - Mary and Joseph?

They aren’t even married yet and she’s pregnant.

Worse, it’s not even his baby.

The age difference is sketchy. It is!

Given his age, I would imagine that Joseph has already lost a wife.

Given their absence from the story, I would imagine Mary has already lost both of her parents.

There is already a whole lot of grief and uncertainty in this story.

But then, in spite of how far along she is, they have to make this journey all the way to Bethlehem or God only knows what the Romans will do to them. (Moms, I don’t know about you, but at that stage I barely made it to Cooley).

Mary ends up giving birth for the first time amongst the straw, far from everything and everyone she knows - surrounded by a handful of shepherds she has never met.

And then they can’t even go home.

Mary and Joseph end up living with Jesus as refugees in a foreign land. Thanks to Herod, they must literally flee from Palestine to Egypt in order to escape state sanctioned violence that is claiming the lives of children.

It is a rough story and, Lord have mercy, an all too familiar one.

Honestly, there was nothing perfect about that first Christmas. Life was hard back then and the world was a mess… kind of like it is right now.

But maybe that’s the point and the reason we come back to this story with such longing year after year.

This child is born unto us because we’re not perfect. Far from it!

This child is born unto us because we are not good at peace. Never have been!

But thanks be to God, the One who created us loves us too much to ever let that be the end of our story.

And so year after year we gather in the dark to light candles and tell one another about a God who looked down upon this big, beautiful, broken mess of a world and chose, in spite of it all, to be born amongst us the better to show us how to live lives that lead to peace and joy for all people…. all people…but especially peace and joy for the people who need it most.

Christmas is a story that invites us all, no matter how hard our lives have become, to see that there is room for people like us in this story because there are people just like us in this story.

People living in fear or far from home.

People struggling to make ends meet.

People longing for peace and an end to tyranny.

People trying to protect the ones they love.

People who have already lost the ones they love the most.

This baby is born for people just like us…all of us.

Friends, we all long for peace and joy, especially at this time of year. And yet somewhere along the way, it’s as if someone convinced us that if we don’t have it all together we’re disqualified in some way. Well, I’m here to tell you tonight that this simply isn’t true. I’m here to tell you that it is in precisely those places where we don’t have it all together that God always comes.

It was not to the rich but to the poor, not to the powerful but to the powerless, not to those who had it altogether but to those who had nothing that this child was born: a vulnerable family; lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, a poor benighted people who had all but given up hope.

And so I suspect that wherever it hurts the most in you right now - wherever fear threatens or despair wants to settle in - I suspect that is the place in you where God is longing to come and be born even now that you might know the peace and joy this child brings.

Dear Ones, you don’t need to find a way to celebrate Christmas in spite of your pain or longing this year. It was in the pain and the longing where Christ came all those years ago to be born and it is in the midst of our pain and longing where Christ is coming to be born even now.  So may what breaks your heart this Christmas be what opens your heart to the peace and joy the Christ child brings.

For unto you - yes, even you - is born this day, in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. Amen

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