In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. 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 deliver her child. 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. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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 in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and 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 those whom he favors!”
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus Christ tonight!
There’s just something about Christmas isn’t there?
No matter how old or jaded we may be, regardless of whether or not we deserve coal in our stockings, Christmas never fails to work some magic.
Maybe its the music, or the candles, or the knowledge of what tomorrow might bring – Christmas is the difference that makes the difference.
And here we are!
Albeit, not in the way we wanted and not in the way we would’ve imagined. We’re tuning in for Christmas worship this year unlike any other. Some of you were perhaps raised in this church and wouldn’t dream of doing anything else but sit behind your computer or phone or iPad tonight to hear what God has to say. While some of you were just scrolling through social media and decided to stop. Some of you, no doubt, are being forced to watch this against your will! Perhaps God will have something special in store for you tonight!
Whoever you are and whatever feelings, thoughts, and questions you have tonight, it is my hope and prayer that you encounter the incarnate Lord who makes his blessing flow far as the curse is found.
“Do not be afraid” the angel says, “For see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
That’s what Christmas really is.
Now, it might not feel strange, with all of our sanitized nativity scenes set up throughout our homes, and our lights hanging from the gutters for the last few weeks, and Nat King Cole’s voice crooning through our bluetooth speakers.
But Christmas is, for lack of a better word, different.
And we bring to this oddest of nights all sorts of thoughts and expectations. We assume that Christmas is the time that sets everything right. You know, Christmas is the time to come home, to return to those types of memories when all was warm and bright, when everything that’s come upside down in our lives is set, at least for a few days in December, right side up.
And this year, it feels like everything is wrong.
A global pandemic.
Gathering restrictions on how many people we can actually be with.
And so, we believe, that Christmas stands as this beacon where, in spite of whatever confusion might be happening in world, tonight things are set right.
Yet, according to the strange new world of the Bible, Christmas was the time when everything was turned upside down.
Consider – It wasn’t about a perfect mother who had the right pregnancy reveal on Instagram and subsequent photos of the color-coordinated nursery and the cutest invitations to her catered baby shower. It was about Mary, an unwed mother-to-be, pregnant in an upside down and impossible way, forced by governing authorities to relocate to a city where there was no room for her, her finance, and the Logos momentarily waiting in her womb.
Consider – The message of the incarnation, the birth of the baby born King doesn’t come through the official state sanctioned media outlet, there’s no announcement in the Jerusalem Times, there’s not even a carefully crafted and endlessly retweeted tweet. It was delivered in a song sung by angels.
Consider – The Good News came not to the learned and the powerful, not to the president or the president elect, not to the movers and the shakers. It was shared first with a bunch of dirty shepherds working the night shift.
Consider – The Word made flesh wasn’t surrounded by the best medical team with a crew of doctors ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. He was placed in a feeding trough.
Christmas isn’t when everything was right – but it’s certainly when God started really turning things upside down. It’s when God shows up in the strangest and most vulnerable of ways to reconstitute the fabric of reality not to make it the way things used to be, but to set the cosmos on a course to how things can be.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s why you find yourself watching and listening tonight. Because your world might not be all that it could be. But, be warned. It is risky coming before the babe at Bethlehem, for God delights in grabbing the rug right under our feet, and when the Lord pulls, no one knows where we’ll wind up.
O come let us adore him, we sing. We come to the manger scene expecting to meet what we have already thought before we arrive. We come expecting, and perhaps hoping, for the fulfillment of our desires, the confirmation of all our prejudices and preconceived notions.
In some way, we want to know that Jesus is on our side, whatever that might mean.
But we are wrong.
For Jesus is like us but he is also totally unlike us. Jesus is the Lord made flesh.
Which makes our Christmases even stranger. We often present tonight as something spiritual or mystical. Or, on the other hand, we criticize others for making this time of year too materialistic.
But Christmas really is a reminder that Christianity is inherently materialistic. God becomes material in Jesus.
God becomes us.
Is God in Christ, then, the perfect, magnanimous, and serene figure often displayed in stained glass windows? Is he holier than thou, looking down upon us in our misery every chance he gets? Is he perennially shaking his head with regard to the disappointing efforts of human progressivism?
Or, is Jesus as Jesus is revealed in the strange new world of the Bible?
For the baby we worship tonight grows not to be very respectable at all – he breaks the sabbath, consorts with crooks and criminals, and he even insists on a public demonstration of protest by flipping over the tables in the temple.
He eats dinner with sinners. He shares wine with the last, least, lost, little, and on one memorable occasion, the recently dead.
He dies as a criminal. He becomes sin for us sinners, weak for us weaklings, lost for us losers.
And the angel says this is Good News.
What makes the Good News of Christ so good is the fact that everybody, even the worst stinker in the world, is somebody for whom Christ was born and for whom Christ died.
Contrary to how we’ve made it out in church, God isn’t born into the world to see if we are good little girls and boys, instead he comes to disturb the conventions by which we pretend to be good.
God isn’t born into the world to see if we are sorry for all of our sins, instead he already knows our repentance isn’t worth the hot air we put into it because we’ all jump back in the sinning business just as soon as we apologize for it.
God isn’t born into the world to come and count up all of our mistakes, instead he lives, he dies, and he lives again all while throwing out the ledger against us forever.
In short, Christmas turns the world upside down forever because God in Christ comes only to forgive.
On no basis on our part.
Because we are far too gone, and up the creek without a paddle, to do much of anything for ourselves in the first place.
Christ is our only hope.
He, himself, is the Good News.
And in him the dawn of redeeming grace has arrived, the world turned upside down. Amen.