Simple, Everyday, and Ordinary

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Luke 2:1-14

Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine

 

2:1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And 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. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–! am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. ” 13 And 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!” (LUKE 2:1-14 NRSV)

Let us pray: Dear God, on this dark. cold winter night, we come to you again, together- family and friends and neighbors and strangers; a congregation of your people – to hear the story we have known and loved since we were children. Quiet any voice in us but your own, and startle us again with the story’s beauty, importance, and truth, in Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is Christmas Eve, a very daunting task for preachers.  How does one improve on the greatest story ever told?  The great American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr apparently didn’t like Christmas Eve sermons. In fact, he intentionally looked a for a church in which to worship where the service did not have a sermon. The reason, Niebuhr explained, is that the preacher is not up to the task.  The topic is too big.  It is better to leave it to the artists, poets, and musicians, even the children who have a way of expressing and celebrating the truth without becoming so tedious — or boring!

I take some relief in the fact that if I am honest with myself and I can hear the harsh reality: I don’t need to worry because you did not come here tonight to hear me, you came to be with your family, to see some people you haven’t seen since last Christmas Eve. You came to hear the story, to sing carols, to light a candle and to sing Silent Night, to praise God and to have a moment…whatever that moment is for you before you go home to get ready for tomorrow.  So, I considered not having a Christmas Eve sermon this year but I can’t do that either because it is such a special night that I should preach…and then my wife, Monnie, who is a Hospice chaplain shared with me a story from her work this week. She was visiting with patients and their families and as she would enter the room she asked if they would like for her to read the Christmas Story.  Most families said of course.  One family however, in addition to saying yes, they said it is dad’s favorite movie and he would love it. Monnie, stopped and realized that they were talking about the wonderful Christmas movie where A Christmas Story with Ralphie Parker, and his family.  You know the movie about Ralphie wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and he is told no that “You’ll shoot yer eye out!”. The movie had the famous leg lamp and the boy who licked the frozen flag pole. You know that great Christmas comedy.  Monnie, had to explain, that no this story doesn’t have the famous leg lamp and the boy who licked the frozen flag pole.  No, this is the story about the birth of Jesus from the bible, the Gospel of Luke, with shepherds, angles, Mary and joseph…oh that story, yes sure, you can read it.

Simple, bare-bones and ordinary that is how Luke tells us the story of Jesus birth. Contrast this plain and humble story of the birth of a baby with that of an inauguration of an Emperor. The most powerful official in all the land living in a palace with a helpless baby born in a manger. One on the top contrast with one on the very bottom.

That in the very ordinariness of this birth their lies the good news of great joy…God’s promise worked out in ordinary human events.

Taxes, travel, a birth, a feedbox. How ordinary.

All Luke tells us is that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger. Luke doesn’t say where that manger was; but in that part of the world in the first century, the feeding trough for animals was part of the single room that was home to most peasant families. They brought their few animals into the house at night to protect them from the weather and theft, and in the winter to add warmth to the house.

Taxes, travel, a birth, a feedbox. How ordinary.

Luke tells the story in a way that highlights, the sharp-contrast between an Emperor who has enough power to levy taxes and command an inconvenient census, an Emperor who is enthroned at the top of the socio-economic pyramid, and a baby who is born in an ordinary peasant home and laid in an ordinary manger, but destined to ”overthrow the principalities and the powers of an empire.”

This means of course that the ordinary, the little things that you and I do, like having babies, going on holiday trips to visit relatives, paying taxes, all those ordinary things are in fact redeemed (holy).

Taxes, travel, a birth, a feedbox. How ordinary.

Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem for, the census. The census was for levying taxes.  It was an ordinary thing in that country in that time as was the birth of the baby in a one-room mud hut among animals, as was the swaddling of the baby and placing him in a feed trough.

This means of course that if the ordinary, the little things that you and I do, like having babies, going on holiday trips to visit relatives, paying taxes, all those ordinary things are in fact converted — then all of life is redeemed, everything about us is blessed (redeemed).

Such an ordinary scene that Luke portrays, so ordinary that we dare to believe we might be included in it; our ordinary lives part of what God enters the world to bless it and to redeem it.

A God willing to be born in a manger, an animal feeding through is a God willing to go anywhere.  It has been that way since the beginning. It will be that way forever. Merry Christmas!

Let us pray:

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