2017 Christmas Eve
Pastor Nathan Pipho
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, MA
[Luke 2:1-20]

In the name of Jesus.  AMEN.

Last year, the City of Montreal tried to emulate the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City. City officials ordered a huge Christmas tree that would be the biggest in North America. The tree arrived as scheduled, it was set up prominently downtown,and it was …

immediately mocked and ridiculed.

People recoiled in horror as they looked at the big hideous looking tree. Montreal’s Official Christmas Tree was ranked #1 most ugly in Canada. Some said it looked like a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

So, one year later, you know what they did this year? They embraced last year’s failure and intentionally ordered another ugly Christmas Tree. The man responsible for ordering the tree said this:  “It could become a Montreal tradition – instead of having a magnificent, perfect tree every year, you have one that’s authentic, crooked, a little bizarre with personality that could be super original and a mark of distinction for Montreal.”

An authentic, crooked, a little bizarre with personality story that is both super original and a mark of distinction … 

Consider …

God didn’t choose a prominent and wealthy matriarch in the powerful city of Jerusalem to carry Jesus. Instead, God choose an unwed single woman in a backwater town of Nazareth.  We know Nazareth now because of the scriptures, but in its day, Nazareth was no more prominent in society than any little forgotten town today with no stop lights and just a stop sign. The truth is Mary was a nobody from nowhere …

When we hear “No room in the inn” and remember that Mary and Joseph were forced to a stable … I wonder if we hear it as a cute part of the story, instead of the painful disaster it was for a pregnant woman and her husband.

I have to admit, that my understanding of the stable was shaped not by scripture but by a Christmas pageant I was in as a boy.  In that pageant a generous inn-keeper, sorry that he doesn’t have a room in his Inn, offers his stable as a consolation prize. However, that is not in the scripture.

It may have happened that way, it may also have happened in the way I heard about on Thursday night of this week. On Thursday, I attended a Candlelight Vigil in observance of Homeless Person’s Memorial Day, intentionally held on the Winter Solstice – the longest night of the year.

One of the people who spoke at the vigil had himself experienced homelessness.  He told us about the year he had slept in an abandoned warehouse. He didn’t have permission to sleep in the warehouse, but he had snuck in and because it was abandoned, no one noticed him.

Could it be that Mary and Joseph also just snuck in?  Alone, abandoned, with no one  noticing except the shepherds who were told by angels where to look?

The angels announcing the birth didn’t announce the birth to the religious leaders.  It was not the priests and scribes who were first told of the birth; it was not the Mayor or City Council of Bethlehem or Jerusalem; it wasn’t the business leaders or the cultural icons … rather, it was the third shift workers, those working outside while others slept comfortably inside – it was to the shepherds that the angels first announced the news

The first Christmas wasn’t about everything going magnificently, beautifully, and perfectly.  It was about Christ entering into the midst of a reality of things going wrong, where our best intentions get hijacked and sidetracked. Where we have to deal with painful surprises that disrupt our lives.

An authentic, crooked, a little bizarre with personality story that is both super original and a mark of distinction … 

When Cantor Mark and I discussed the bulletin for tonight, we discussed options for artwork to put on the cover. One of the images we considered was a depiction by Comic Everett Patterson of what Mary and Joseph might look like today. We included the image on the inside of the back cover of the bulletin (and is the featured photo of this blog).

It’s depicts Mary and Joseph outside of a convenience store in a forgotten part of a city Joseph is at a payphone with a phone book, probably calling to find a place for a room for himself and Mary. On the ground around them is crushed soda or beer can, an empty bottle of wine, and a discarded newspaper.

It’s not a cozy and sentimental image of Christmas.  It’s not a picture you would find on Christmas cards, but it is as complete a picture of Christmas as any. If you look again at the image you’ll notice that right there in the middle of images of rejection, abandonment, isolation, hopelessness, and despair, there’s a little green sprout shooting up through the crack in the sidewalk.

That sprout of new life – amidst the reality of sin and suffering – that is Christmas.

Christmas is NOT about us entering into a most wonderful time of the year, where we have our dreams of a white Christmas fulfilled, and family and friends all get along in new ways.

Christmas IS about Christ, the living presence of God entering into the midst of our human pain. It is about Christ, entering into our realities and shining the light of the world into our darkness.

Christmas announces the good news, that God does not turn from us because of our imperfections, our failures, and our sin. Instead, in the merciful presence of God, Christ enters our lives with promises of forgiveness, healing, and peace.

The Christmas story as told by Luke is the Good News proclamation of Jesus Christ who is born among us and in us. A savior born directly into our real pain, deep oppression, and structural injustices that burden bodies and souls.

The Good News, the Christmas “good news of great joy for all people” announced tonight, is that in Jesus Christ, God has not overlooked human suffering, but instead, has chosen to enter fully into it … to heal, to save, to redeem.

And this good news of great joy for all people announced tonight doesn’t end when the Christmas gifts are unwrapped, the Christmas carols are finished, and the decorations come down.

The good news of Christmas, of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, is the good news that we can take back with us into the world at the end of this service on December 25th, and that is just as alive and living for us on January 25th, May 25th, and August 25th and all days in between …

The good news is that Christ is born among us throughout the year in the feeding of the hungry, the welcoming of the stranger, the clothing of the naked, the caring for the sick, and the visiting of the prisoner.

We leave tonight with the promise that endures: Christ goes with us!  Christ is with us!

Christ enters into our “authentic, crooked, a little bizarre with personality stories” to mark us as co-heirs with Christ of the promises and blessings of God.

May the Holy Spirit fill your heart with this true Christmas joy today and always.

Merry Christmas!