Particularly Christmas Eve
Sermon preached December 24, 2018
‘In those days an executive order went out from President Trump that the whole country should be registered. This was the registration taken while Paul was still governor of Maine. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph went from the town of Harrington in Washington County to Oxford county, to the town of Bethel, because he was from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth to her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in a swaddling blanket, and laid him in a manger, in Gould Academy’s barn behind the fieldhouse, because the inns were full of skiers, and Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway was full as well, and Joseph was a self-employed carpenter, without insurance.
In that region there were mushers carefully tending to their many dogs, and sheep farmers guarding their flocks, and beekeepers protecting their hives from bears; all were out in the early darkness of evening, making their last rounds. When an angel of the Lord appeared before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and fortunately for the angel, cell service in Bethel is awful – so they looked up from their phones – and noticed. And they were concerned, disturbed, even a little terrified. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in Bethel, Maine, of all places, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a newborn child lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among you, God’s beloved!
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the mushers, farmers and beekeepers looked at each another and thought – Really?! Why us? Why here? Why would God send the savior of the world to this place? Wouldn’t God send the savior somewhere more important and populated, like New York’s Times Square, with all those LED billboards and thousands of people; and wouldn’t God inform someone more official, or connected? And they were confused and unsure about what to do next…because this didn’t sound quite right.’
But that’s how God works – over and over God acts in the margins, through the most unlikely people, in almost ridiculously humble settings – on purpose. In the places you’d least expect God to act, through seemingly insignificant people. Overturning the rules of the world, challenging expectations of power and authority, empowering and validating the dignity of every human being.
On this night, God acts in the most remarkable way – God’s own love is embodied in a vulnerable human baby. Born in Bethlehem, but were this to happen in our own day, Jesus might have been born in Bethel Maine. The incarnation is particular. God came to be particularly one of us, in the dust and dirt, and the reality of human life. Because this life is precious and holy and a gift, and we are beloved of God.
Luke reminds us that the powers that be, the people who need to make a name for themselves, to be ‘all that’ – ultimately, they are nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing. God chose to come among us through ordinary people, the least of us – who are chosen because of their faithfulness. Who say yes to being part of God’s salvation, the offer of love and life abundant for all people.
Believe the angel’s proclamation, “unto you is born this day a Savior.” Say yes to this offer – of love and life abundant in your own life. God gave God’s own son, to be one of us, particularly one of us, to share this life, and make it blessed and holy… to bring salvation to us all. And in response, we embrace that gift, that love, and share it with others, through our ordinary day-to-day actual lives. Through small acts of deep kindness and connection, one human being to another. Particularly in times like these – times that are difficult and contentious, when people are on edge, and so many seem afraid.
Perhaps that’s why angels always start with, “Do not be afraid” – because people in every age are frightened – by what we don’t understand or can’t control. We feel helpless and vulnerable when much in our life is beyond our control. And those times when we are in control, we are terrified of failure: that fear paralyzes some and brings out the bully in others. Because face it – sometimes we fail miserably.
We’re human like that. And so is everyone else. Imperfect, dependent and vulnerable – that’s us. Every single one of us. In every walk of life, everyone. Rich and powerful, famous and beautiful, it makes absolutely no difference, imperfect, dependent and vulnerable – every one of us. So, we can exhale now. Our secret’s out, we can stop posturing perfection and be our true selves.
My younger friends: this is good news. You can stop living your life on the small screen: Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Vine, Twitter…, living out loud for the fans or followers whom you think are watching; and live your life for REAL instead. (No one’s really living the life they claim on social media – we know that, right?)
For those of us who may be older and prefer the laptop version: you can stop living out loud for your Facebook friends, and mass emailing your favorite op-eds to your list of friends; and instead actually live your life for yourself and be in community with others in person. Being a person of integrity and authenticity, and modeling that for your children.
Or if you prefer the more retro version: you can stop worrying about what to say in the three-page Christmas letter of how fabulous your life is, and how accomplished your children are, and live your life instead. (We’ve all gotten that letter posing impossible perfection).
My point – LIVE this one God given and blessed, abundant life: a real life, a life of being authentic and knowing you are imperfect, dependent and vulnerable – and beloved of God as you are. Infinitely more valuable than a life spent worried about carefully packaged perfection, is a life abundant, full of grace upon grace; a life full of love, messy, personal and real.
God’s love came to us this night in the form of a real living child, dependent and vulnerable like us – to be loved by human parents and live in an actual family, like ours. To make our real lives holy and of God; redeemed because of that love, not because of our pretense of perfection.
Get out from under the weight of the expectation of perfection and take on a different kind of expectation altogether – the expectation of the holy, the expectation of miracles and having your breath taken away by moments of the grace of God in the ordinary.
Pay attention to other people (and a lot less to yourself) and you will notice incredible grace-filled moments that happen between ordinary imperfect people. Pay attention and you might meet an angel while you are walking your dog or bringing in the mail. Remember – God shows up in places you wouldn’t expect, to those people who aren’t really on the radar; to remind us that everyone matters. God works through imperfect people like us. The grace of God is all around you – look around and pay attention, and notice it; gather it in and be amazed. Let it remind you that you are beloved, as your authentic self.
Life isn’t about winning and losing, and doing it ‘right’ won’t guarantee success. But living an authentic life, knowing you are beloved, and noticing and sharing the grace of God will change everything – your entire experience, the good times and difficult ones, and all the ordinary ones in between.
Don’t be afraid to live your particular, abundant and beloved life; for on this night God gave God’s own son, to be one of us, particularly one of us, to share this life, and make it blessed and holy, to bring salvation to us all.
“Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”