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!”

Luke 2:1-14

Pastor Marc's sermon on Christmas Eve - 5 pm (December 24, 2014) on Luke 2:1-14. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


[starts with a children’s sermon]
[Bring out multiple presents that are wrapped. There’s one big one that has a mirror inside. Some are wrapped “well” while most are wrapped poorly]

So I’ve got a few questions for y’all. How many of you have wrapped a present recently? (wait for answers)

And who did you give these presents to? (wait for answers)

So I’ve got a bunch of presents up here - and these are all the ones I wrapped. And, as you can see, I am not good at wrapping presents. Some people I know are awesome at it. The corners are crisp, the paper isn’t folded, the tape and bows are just perfect! And these (shake a present)....are not as perfect. 

Can you tell me what’s wrong with the wrapping job? (messy; too much tape; wrinkled; corners are bad, etc.) 

Now there are a lot of reasons why I didn’t do a good job wrapping. I had a lot to do this week so I was busy rushing and didn’t take my time to focus on it. I didn’t have the right tools - my scissors weren’t sharp and my tape was old and not the right kind. The wrapping paper got attacked by my dog and my cat slept on it while I was trying to wrap the presents. So a lot happened to cause all the things wrong with them! 

But they’re still presents. And we know what we’re suppose to do with presents right? OPEN IT. So we’re going to open this big one right now and see what’s inside. And I need some help….(get kids to help unwrap it). 

Okay...let’s open the lid….whoa. What’s this? (pull out a mirror) 

Now, what do you see in a mirror? (Ourselves!) 

That’s right! We see ourselves in the mirror. So it’s really funny to find a mirror in poorly wrapped Christmas present, isn’t it? 

Now Christmas is about gifts and presents. But Christmas isn’t just about getting the newest toy, lego set, or iPad. Because one of the biggest gifts at Christmas is….us. 

The story of Jesus coming into the world is a story of God showing us what true human living looks like. This kind of life isn’t easy. Like the poorly wrapped presents, things can get tough sometimes. We get busy, we get picked on, something bad happens to us or maybe we get angry and upset or maybe we don’t look the way everyone says we should or maybe we’re different. There’s a lot of reasons why we don’t want to be a present to others or why we don’t see ourselves as gifts that can help other people. But, because Jesus was born into our world - and because Jesus lived a very human life and died a very human death - we are called to be gifts to the world. 

And Jesus helps us be those gifts. We can be a gift by helping someone out, being kind, doing everything we can to make sure everything is fair for everyone, and loving people - not because they are perfect - or they know how to wrap presents perfectly - but because God loved the world to make Jesus a gift for everyone - and we’re here to make ourselves a gift for everyone too. 

Thank you for being here! Merry Christmas to each of you - and you may go back to your seat.

[Main sermon]
It’s the ends, really, that get me while wrapping presents. I can never seem to fold the corners and make their creases precise enough. And by the time I’ve folded and taped everything down, there’s still this random all-white triangle sticking out even though my wrapping paper was all green with penguins on it. The gifts I wrap are never as crisp or clean or as perfect as they should be. 

But neither is the Christmas story as presented in Luke. 

The story begins on a big scale. We hear that the Emperor of the Roman Empire - the emperor of the entire world, as far as Luke is concerned, orders that a census needs to be done. Everyone needs to be accounted for. And not only do they need to be counted and tracked - but this counting will be done where everyone originally comes from. Everyone needs to return to where their family calls home. It didn’t matter that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, miles and miles away from Bethlehem. And there’s nothing to say that Joseph ever lived in Bethlehem or if he ever visited there. But Bethlehem is where David was born 800 or a thousand years before Joseph was - and as a descendant of David - that's where Joseph calls home. 

And so they go to Bethlehem while Mary is nine months pregnant. 
So, in Luke’s picture of what is going on, people all over the world are doing what Joseph and Mary did. They need to travel to places where there parents, or grandparents, or great-great-great grandparents come from. It’s there where they'll be counted. The entire world is on the move. 

And this...this is news. People’s lives are being disrupted by this need to pack up and take an unexpected vacation to places they’ve never been to before. The entire world is in motion. And it’s the Emperor - the Emperor with all the military and political might who caused it.

It looks like the Emperor is the only one who has the power to change the entire world. 

And so, as the world moves, as peoples’ lives are being uprooted - something very small happens. Something almost insignificant happens. A family without money or means finds themselves on the road in a small corner of a small country on the edge of the Roman world. And it’s there - in a small stable behind an inn - that a little baby is born. 

Big things are happening in the world. From the perspective of the Emperor - for the perspective of anyone paying attention - this little baby - doesn’t even register. No one would notice - because the world is being changed by big, powerful, and politically mighty people. This little baby shouldn’t be able to change the world - but he does.

It’s in the small, untidy, and unlikely places that God’s gift to the world - is born. 

And that’s the bigger news.

Luke is painting a picture here. He’s painting a picture that our understanding of who sets the rules, of who makes the news, isn’t right. News isn’t just made by the powerful. Change isn’t only caused by those who we think are in charge. The power to get people to move and disrupt their lives isn’t what defines this holy night. No, why we are here - why we gather every year on this night - on this Christmas Eve - is because God found it fitting to send Jesus not to the palace in Rome - to be born in the best luxury money, power, and military might can buy - but God sent Jesus to be born in a stable, to be wrapped in cloth, and to be met not by celebrities or kings and queens - but to be met by shepherds who are spending their nights not at home, but out in the field, working and watching their flock. 

The big and the strong aren’t who God uses to bring about change. The tough and the tall aren’t who God uses to heal the sick and the worried. The rich and mighty aren’t who God uses to save the world. Change doesn’t only happen in big packages. God uses small ones too. 

And that’s good news. 

Tonight is the night for good news. It’s not a night where only pain and suffering are reported. We’re not here to turn on the tv and only hear about war, violence, death, and how we’ve failed to love each other like we should. Tonight isn’t a night where we only sit in darkness. Tonight is when we share God’s light. We share that the world has been changed. We share that the world continues to be changed because Jesus came - not to condemn or destroy or uproot people just because he could. He didn’t come to be another Roman Emperor or President or Political Leader. No, Jesus came to love - because it's through God's love that all is made right. 

And that love didn’t start in power but it started in the most humble place possible. That love became real, became visible, in a manger - in the wooden contraption that cows and donkeys use to eat their meals. That love became real in a small, dirty, and untidy place - because the world said that there was no room for baby Jesus in a real and warm bed. 

Love doesn’t need to only be something the big, powerful, and strong can do. Love is something that we all - no matter our age, height, gender, race, wealth, or intelligence - love is something that we can all do. It doesn’t matter if you’re 2 or 92. We are invited to be God’s light - to be God’s love - to everyone we meet. 

That’s what it means to be God’s gift. That’s what it means to be part of God’s good news to the world. And that’s our gift - to be a gift to everyone in love - not because we are powerful and perfect but because, through Jesus - through the one who would grow up to heal the sick, eat and drink with those no one wanted to, who would tell those in power that God is about doing unexpected things - this Jesus who would eventually end up rejected and dejected by those in power and those who were his friends - it’s through this Jesus, the unexpected savior, that God shows loves.

It’s through the small things that God invites us to love. And it’s through love - pure love - that the world truly moves. It's through love that the world is truly uprooted, and it's through love that the world is truly, unexpectantly, saved.