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!”
Pastor Marc's sermon on Christmas Eve - 11 pm (December 24, 2014) on Luke 2:1-14. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Did you see a sign as you came to church tonight?
I know, with the darkness, it’s hard enough just keeping our eyes on the road. But if you were lucky to be sitting in the passenger seat or in the back, staring at darkened neighborhoods and houses covered in lights - you probably saw at least one sign.
And it probably said “No parking” or “left turn only” or “Holiday Sale, 50% Off.” Maybe you saw a leftover election sign or a faded flyer stapled to a telephone pool. Or maybe Ace of Base came on in the car and you found yourself singing “that you saw the sign and it opened your eyes.” Cuz, you see, signs are everywhere.
And there's a sign out front, right as you turn from Pascack Road to get to church. It's unlit, held down by a single sandbag, and it's a little ugly. There's nothing glorious about it. And it's kinda become part of the scenery here at church.
As the new pastor here at Christ Lutheran, I have never seen this church without that sign out front. I remember noticing it the first time as I drove up here and being a little taken aback by it. But, 7 months later, that black lettering on white painted sheet metal has kinda faded into the background. I mentally don’t really see it anymore when I come here. It’s warning that the way forward is closed and impassable no longer reaches me. That sign is now just something I try not to hit when I’m pulling into the church parking lot.
Now that sign wasn’t always just part of the scenery. When that sign first arrived, it brought a helpful warning - proclaiming loudly, in all kinds of weather, that normal life had been disrupted. One of our routes to the church was cut off.
But time and experience has made that sign announcing that the way is closed - feel normal. Which is exactly the kind of feeling I think Luke was highlighting when he told how an angel came to shepherds in the field - and the angel said that tonight, he had good news to share. Tonight, out of all the nights, the Messiah - was born. And the sign of this Messiah - this Savior who would be an open road to God - was just a simple newborn, wrapped in bands of cloth, and lying in a manger. The savior of the world had come - and the savior came in the most ordinary and unremarkable way: he was born.
That’s the sign that changes everything.
And this sign isn’t pointing to some future event that will make him the Messiah. Luke isn’t saying that after Jesus’s life, after the rabble rousing and healing the sick and hanging out with those society didn’t want - and even the Cross isn't what makes Jesus the savior of the world. No, this baby - this newborn resting in the manger - he, he is the savior. This is what the Messiah looks like and he is huddled in a cradle.
And this baby is our sign that something different is taking place.
Like I said, signs are everywhere. They are on the road, on the side of the roads, they cover the sides of buildings and they flood our facebook newsfeeds all the time. We are surrounded and confronted by signs all the time.
And it’s easy to ignore these signs - to let them bleed into the background - because we’ve already internalized the story they share. We know what these signs mean and how they affect us.
But there’s an invitation here in Christ’s birth that tells us a different story. If this is your first Christmas, blessings to your hearing the story for the first time. And if this is your 100th, blessings to you for hearing this story again. Because the Jesus story is never a story that truly fades into the background. There are parts of it that tug at us, grab onto us - parts that didn’t bother us before or parts that we didn’t notice. Tonight, for me, it’s signs. It’s the sign that the world - that us - that even me - matter to God.
The shepherds knew this when they heard the angel proclaim that God was doing a brand new thing that night. They knew that this child - this sign - was an improbable reminder that they and the world still matter to God. And in their encounter with Jesus - in their meeting with him - they were changed.
They were changed because they became something new that night. They became bearers of Christ’s story. Having met the Messiah, who was resting in a makeshift cradle, they all of the sudden became bearers of his image - of his experience - of his life story. The story told, the story encountered, the sign seen - they were transformed. They were changed. And as witnesses to Christ - they became signs of Christ too.
The Christmas story is more than just a story of Jesus’s birth. The Christmas story is a story of God’s presence and action in the world. It’s a story that shouts that the world still matters to God - and that we, right here, matter too. Whether we are believers or not, whether we are Christian or not, whether we woke up this morning fully 100% onboard with what the Christian story shares - we still matter to God. And we are called to matter to everyone else too - to see ourselves as God sees us - as bearers of Christ’s story into the world.
The route to God is open to all. The way thru isn’t closed. This newborn baby is a sign for us that the world matters to God - and we are to be a sign too. We’re invited to embody that sign, to bear it into our bones, and to be a Christmas story to everyone we meet. We’re invited to love; to care; to be kind. Let that be our story. Let that be part of our daily DNA. Let’s see ourselves as the signs of God’s love that we are - and live out Christmas all year long.
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