Lord, grant that we may joyfully receive him for our Redeemer. Amen.
The collect for Christmas begins “O God, who makes us glad with the yearly remembrance”.
And that is what this night is for many of us, a yearly remembrance of the birth of the Christ child.
Part of the wonder of the night is the possibility of the meeting of the worlds, the coming together of time. We sing the words, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”.
What a beautiful beginning it is - Jesus is born, Luke says, and Mary wraps him in swaddling cloths and sets him in a manger “because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
Nothing more natural than a mother trying to provide warmth and a place for her infant son to sleep. She laid him in the manger.
A tiny family is displaced. Far from home, they can’t even procure the kind of accommodations that usually would be available for travelers (Luke 2:7). Mary gives birth to Jesus without fanfare or public proclamation of this infant king’s birth as euaggelion, or “good news.” In retrospect we sing and celebrate this “good news”, but to Mary, it was less than an exquisite reception.
In the text, the scene switches to a group of shepherds watching their flocks in the fields at night. These shepherds are going about their normal routine. Unlike Mary and Joseph, who are in a strange place, they are in the place they know best, doing what they know how to do. Suddenly, here—in an unlikely place and to an unlikely audience—we hear the dramatic pronouncement of Jesus’ birth as “good news.”
Our familiarity with the images can obscure the fact that Luke paints a picture of spectacular grandeur: an “angel of the Lord” appears, and the “glory of the Lord” shines around them (Luke 2:9). The shepherds hear this otherworldly creature proclaim “good news of great joy,” and then, “suddenly” the “angel of the Lord” is not the only one.
A “multitude of the heavenly army” appears and bursts into praise (Luke 2:13). No wonder the shepherds are “filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9). Though the angel tells them, “Fear not” (one of the most repeated phrases in Scripture), their fear probably doesn’t just disappear. Nevertheless, they choose to go and see “this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15-17).
When we generally tell the story through song, programming or nativity scenes in our homes, most of the time the two scenes are depicted together - the angels above the barn, the holy family inside, and shepherds there worshipping the infant Christ—as though they occurred in one and the same moment.
But the scenes unfold separately. When Jesus was born, the implication is, Mary and Joseph didn’t yet know what happened out in the fields. Only later (Luke 2:15-17) do they learn what has been going on elsewhere.
I can imagine that Mary is wondering about this birth. The angel Gabriel had appeared to her and told her she would be with child and that he would be great and will be called the Son of the most High, and that the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David (Luke 1:32), but now this child, Jesus, is born and there is no fanfare. There is not even a place to stay. I wonder what Mary (and Joseph) were thinking about it all.
There had to be moments of wondering, doubt, uncertainty amidst the joy of the birth of new life. When the shepherds get there and found Jesus in the manger, the shepherds then shared what the angels had told them. Jesus’ birth was declared to be good news. And Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
Pondering implies “thinking on”, “thinking about”, “wondering about.” In the midst of this seemingly ordinary birth, little fanfare and literally not even a place to stay, Mary gives birth to a son.
And her agency, who she was, how she handled things, is worth reflecting upon. She pondered these things. She didn’t act. She didn’t do anything. She didn’t go proclaim anything. She was remembering what was, the angel Gabriel appearing to her, Elizabeth’s son John leaping for joy in the womb when Mary came to her, and thinking of what the future might hold.
But she did nothing. She pondered. She spent time recognizing the ordinariness of her world and how it intertwined with what God was doing.
In these days when change is happening so rapidly around us and a world we could have never imagined is around us - recognize the ordinariness of our world, which is just as disruptive as Mary’s world was to her, just as political, very stressful - and ponder. Ponder the question of “where is God?” in the midst of these things?
Ponder. Pause. See if you can recognize a place where God does show up, in places that are familiar and in unexpected places. Tonight rings of the familiar.
We come here tonight so we can remember.
The Christmas story is a story of God showing up in places not expected.
Good news will surprise and perhaps even terrify us at times, appearing when we least expect it, when we’re simply going about our days in familiar ways and places, as happened to the shepherds.
This service, this night reminds us of the Good News. Which many of us may need to be reminded of and to hear.
A savior has been born for us, a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. Titus 2:11-14, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all”.
This is the good news were are gathered here to celebrate this night.
God often works in ways we cannot see. In ways that make no sense to us. A babe born in a manger is the “good news” the world has awaited.
Christ has been born. God takes on the form of man and the world will never again be the same.
The euaggelion, (the good news) Luke teaches us, is unpredictable and uncontrollable. It defies expectations. And it’s always breaking into the world anew.
In the midst of our ordinariness, that which is “normal” for us, in the midst of our brokenness, the creator of the universe intrudes.
And that intrusion is disruptive. But that disruption is good news - the Euaggelion.
Let us ponder that.