God in swaddling cloths, in you and me

2017-12-24/Christmas Eve/Community Lutheran/Pr. Joe Vought

Isaiah 9:2-7   Titus 2:11-14   Luke 2:1-20

 “Where did Jesus come from?”  I asked children in my former parish.  One little girl piped up: “From God, and Santa Claus too!”    Confused?   It’s honest.   We have Christ in our Christmas displays but he’s one among many: Rudolph, Scrooge, Santa Claus, toy soldiers, shepherds, angels and Jesus all vie for our attention.  So we may be asking, “Where did Jesus come from and what is Christmas all about?”

 “The Bible makes it clear Jesus came down to this world and he came down from the very top.  The One worthy of all worship, was born a baby in an animal stable.  Once his life began, Jesus never stopped descending.  Omnipotent, He cried; The owner of all things, He had no home; The King of Kings, He became a slave; The Source of truth, He was found guilty of blasphemy; From the pinnacle of praise to death on a cross.” (Bill Hybels, “Descending Into Greatness”)   When we say love came down at Christmas we are talking about God coming fully into our world, amid our confusion, deep in the flesh, born, died and was buried.  Just like you and me.  If God came in the hard labor of a young woman, of peasant parents, into a world of tyrants and Caesars, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died a criminal’s death, buried in borrowed grave, who are we to say when and where God can show up? 

 Listen to this Christmas story told by a young mother:

 Our family was driving home for Christmas when we stopped for lunch.  I was enjoying the meal when I heard Erik, our one-year-old, scream with glee, pounding his baby hands – whack, whack – on the tray of the high chair.  His face alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin.   Then I saw the source of his merriment.  A tattered worn rag of a coat; Baggy pants and zipper at half-mast over a spindly body; Toes that poked out of his shoes; A shirt with ring-around-the-collar and a face like no other; Gums as bare as Erik’s, hair unwashed, uncombed; A nose so varicose it looked like a roadmap.  I was too far away to smell him, but I knew he smelled.  His hands were waving, “Hi there, baby; hi there, big boy.  I see ya, buster.” Erik laughed.  I turned the high chair.  Erik screamed, twisted to see the old man.  Waitresses’ eyebrows were rising.  The old geezer was a nuisance, shouting across the room, “Do ya know peek-a-boo? Hey look, he knows peek-a-boo.” He was drunk.  We were embarrassed.  We ate hurriedly, all except Erik, who continued with glee.  My husband rose to pay the check.  I grabbed Erik and headed for the exit. The old man sat waiting, between me and the door. “Lord, let me out of here.” I prayed.  I tried to put my back between Erik and the old man.  But Erik leaned far over my arm, reaching out with both arms in a baby’s pick-me-up gesture.  In a second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye-to-eye with the old man.  His eyes were imploring. “Would you let me hold your baby?” There was no need to answer.  Erik propelled himself into the man’s arms and immediately laid his head on the man’s shoulder.  The man’s eyes closed and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes.  His aged hands, full of pain and hard labor, gently cradled my baby and stroked his back.  The old man rocked Erik, then opened his eyes and looked into mine. He said in a firm voice, “You take care of this baby.” I said, “I will.”  He pried Erik from his chest as though he were in pain.  I held my arms open to receive my baby, and he said. “God bless you, ma’am.  You’ve given me my Christmas present.”  I muttered thanks and with Erik in my arms, I ran for the car.  My husband wondered why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly and why I was saying, “My God, my God, forgive me.”   

 The mother found out what Joseph, Mary and the shepherds did:     God comes in ways we least expect and through those we least expect.   Martin Luther said in one of his Christmas sermons, “to find Christ in swaddling clothes in a manger teaches us how we should find him, in our neighbors, the lowliest and most needy.”  God comes into our world in a gurgling baby, an old man in pain, in the faces of people in shopping malls and nursing homes, in faces lit by candlelight.   God has become one of us so that we might share the life of God.  Christmas is to receive our lives and the lives of all people as precious gifts.  As God came to earth in Jesus, we believe that God can redeem each and every one of us and this struggling world we live in.   It is to welcome Christ in our daily lives and to ponder the poet’s words,

                           “Welcome, Welcome all wonders in one sight!

                             Eternity shut in a span!

                             Summer in Winter, Day in Night!

                             Heaven in Earth, and God in Man!

                             Great little one, whose all-embracing birth,

                             Lifts Earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to Earth!”

                                                                                               (Richard Crayshaw, 17th c)

 “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people on earth.”       Amen.

2017-12-30T12:38:19+00:00 December 30th, 2017|Sermons|0 Comments

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