Christmas Eve 2017
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:1-20
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring – not even a mouse…The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.” Of course you know the rest of the poem describes the interruption of that quiet by Santa and his eight reindeer, but it strikes me that those lines from the first two stanzas could be about the residents of Bethlehem those many centuries ago asleep and mostly oblivious to the world-changing event nearby. Perhaps the night of Jesus’ birth was one of those nights that happens from time to time where it seems that everything is at peace, sleep seems a little deeper, and the world inside and out a little quieter.
But whatever that night was like, it is God interrupts with “such a clatter”: the shouts of a woman in labor, the startled cry of a newborn, the trumpeting song of the angels, the footsteps of the shepherds. God’s coming creates quite a disruption at least among the small group of characters in the biblical story. God comes to us in the midst of our human messiness, to be sure, but God also creates a disruptive mess in coming. And I don’t know about you, but I tend not to like disruptions, especially ones that happen in the middle of the night, even when they are from God. I am not likely to delight in things that interrupt my plans and disrupt my schedule, things that make life more complicated. And yet God comes in just that way all the time.
Sometimes we respond like Mary, the young girl, not a troublemaker but not the star student either. An ordinary girl who is just following along the path expected of her, betrothed to a man who is decent but not well-off or well-known. And an angel of the Lord interrupts the quiet of her daily chores to ask her to bear the Son of God. She responds with fear, confusion, and a healthy dose of skepticism. But in the end she says, “Here I am.” And with that God uses her to bear the divine into the world, at great pain and risk to herself she responds to God’s interruption with openness and she and the world are never the same again.
And sometimes we respond like Joseph whose similarly mundane life plans are repeatedly interrupted by dreams which ask him to wrestle through long dark nights with a mystery beyond belief, which ask him to set out to a new home and a new land as a refugee with his family, to take on a responsibility he did not ask for or understand. Sometimes, like Joseph, having wrestled with God’s interruption in our lives are surprised to find ourselves in a cold, dark corner of the world standing in awe of God’s presence right in front of us.
And sometimes we respond like the shepherds or the magi when we are alerted by something extraordinary to the presence of God in something altogether ordinary, coming to see the presence of God that others have labored into the world, coming to worship and adore, just as we do tonight. They bring the gifts they have to offer, but their greatest gift is to witness, to stand in wonder and notice God’s interrupting with love and grace.
And sometimes we even respond to God’s interruption like King Herod, with violent resistance to the ways in which God’s power through vulnerability, poverty, and outsiderness interrupts our own sense of power and control.
But I suspect much of the time we are more like the nameless people asleep in the quiet night as all this takes place. Maybe the song of the angels is just enough of a disruption in the order of things that we stir briefly from sleep unaware of what it is that has awoken us. Maybe we overhear the shepherds whispering in wonder in the marketplace and think little of it. Maybe we don’t even notice God’s coming at all.
And yet, despite our mixed and sometimes not so welcoming response, God keeps interrupting. God interrupts the life of the fleeing refugee with the birth of new children or with small hand-made notes of encouragement from children and adults across the globe. God interrupts progressing dementia with flashes of memory and the return of familiar words and tunes of Christmas carols and prayers. God interrupts our sometimes overscheduled lives with people who make us laugh, with neighbors who need our help, with moments of beauty and rest. God interrupts the halls of power with voices of the poor and marginalized pleading for life. God interrupts our complacency with injustice, prodding us to engage for the sake of our neighbor. God interrupts our carefully laid plans for how our lives will be, how our relationships will play out, how our careers will develop with surprises that derail us into new things we haven’t yet dreamed of. God will interrupt even our holiday celebrations big and small with reminders of Immanuel, God-with-us.
God’s great interruption of the world as we knew it with the Christ Child is for us the promise that God will keep interrupting our lives over and over again. That God will come down to dwell among us here in ordinary things and ordinary people, like the bread and wine we share tonight. That God will keep showing up in unexpected ways whether we respond with welcome or not, whether we even notice or not. We celebrate tonight that God takes on the messiness of our embodied human life and in doing so interrupts the whole cosmos to save us.
My prayer for you is that this Christmas and throughout the new year ahead God will interrupt and disrupt your life with love and grace that surprises you and fills you with wonder and awe at the presence of God made flesh in you and in your neighbors.
-Pastor Steven Wilco