Last night we had three beautiful and packed out services in this church—with real candlelight and a real baby as an illustration for the children’s sermon. As you may be aware, many more people attend services on Christmas Eve now than Christmas Day. I can understand that. In all of the Christmas Pageants I’ve ever seen, Mary and Joseph always arrive at night, waking up the grumpy innkeeper. The star shines in the night sky. We sing Silent Night, Holy Night. We love the idea that Jesus was born under starlight, with singing angels and a warm stable with soft lamp light. We imagine the Holy Family as they look in our Nativity sets—Mary draped in a clean blue and white gown, Joseph stoically reflecting, the shepherds holding cotton lambs, all on some very clean hay. I collect Nativity scenes from other countries, and all of them have the same characters doing the same thing. Baby Jesus sleeps, Mary is never tired, Joseph poses for his best supporting actor role, the shepherds hang out until the three kings arrive. But what about Christmas morning?
But no one ever talks about the next morning, after the shepherds went back to their hill and the angels flew home, the stable would have been dark, smelly, and cold. Mary would not have been clean. Joseph would not have been reflective and dreamy, the sheep left with the shepherds, and it’s really hard to see stars in the daytime. Just as I understand why people want to come on Christmas Eve, when it’s romantic and candlelit, I understand why we prefer an Instagram, Target version of the Nativity. Our lives up close are too hard and realistic as they are, so we cling to a romanticized version of Christ’s birth like spiritual comfort food. But it’s so much more than that. It is about a real event and a real Savior for our real problems.
This baby, Luke tells us, eclipses the power of Emperors and Governors but is declared to smelly shepherds while the powerful rulers sleep. The angel tells the shepherds, “I bring you good news, of great joy; To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah.” This is the point where our minds snap shut—because we cannot understand how or why God would come to us as a baby, a vulnerable bit of flesh and bone with no power and no riches. God became a baby so that we could see how vulnerable and helpless we are every moment of the day. God became us and we are a vulnerable bit of flesh and bone with no real power and no heavenly riches. We are the vulnerable ones—and God came to save us as He promised.
All you need to be reminded of your vulnerability is to read any headline from the year that has passed. I recently returned from a trip to Indonesia, and was shocked to hear about the tsunami this weekend near Jakarta that has killed 300+ people. One story was about a band called Seventeen that had been performing for the Jakarta Electric Company Christmas party Saturday night. A phone video shows the band performing when a wall of water comes from behind the stage and swallows up the band and the party goers. And then there is just water. One of the crew members named Zach said that he was immediately underwater and unable to move, see or breathe. His mind kept repeating, “Jesus Christ, help me. Jesus Christ, help me.” He wasn’t thinking—it was as if his soul was murmuring. Our souls come from God and are streaming our need to Christ, whether we believe or not.
We are tempted to think, “Well, if I was in a tsunami, I would pray.” But we don’t just need saving in some far away future—we need saving every minute of every day. Like Zach, our souls murmur a steady stream of “Jesus Christ, help me,” whether we hear it or not. You were born helpless to be saved by him. As Martin Luther reminded us, “The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me.” No worldly riches or worldly power can save you from the world itself. But the promise for your very life was fulfilled when the angel proclaimed, “Unto youis born this day the Savior.” You may be putting on a Christmas face to cover up the pain or uncertainty or fear you are feeling. On this Christmas morning, I am here to tell you that God knows your struggle and stands with you and for you and will not let you go.
Theologian David Lose reminds us that, “Through God’s embrace of our lot and our lives, we not only learn about God—that God is love, that God will not give up on us, that there is no length or depth to which God will not go to reach us—we also learn something about ourselves and, indeed, the whole creation. That we have worth. That we and the whole creation is of inestimable value to God.”
Jesus was born for you and you were born for Him.
What child is this who is on Mary’s lap sleeping?
This is Christ the King, the babe who came to save you because you are a vulnerable babe in the world.
Amen and Merry Christmas!