Christmas Eve (12/24/2009)

Emmanuel – God With Us

Lessons:      Isaiah 9:2-7      Psalm 96      Titus 2:11-14      St. Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus' presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2.1 In 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-I 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!"

[15 When 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." 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.]

St. Luke 2:1-14 [15-20], New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Gospel according to St. Luke is a unique Gospel, among the four that we know. Perhaps more so than any of the others, St. Luke makes a significant attempt to tie his account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to events of the day. In fact, that is how his Gospel begins. While John begins with creation, Matthew begins with Father Abraham and his descendants (descending all the way to Joseph, the husband of Mary), and Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan – Luke begins with Caesar Augustus, and a less known local ruler, Quirinius of Syria.

There were other local and international politicians St. Luke could have named in his opening verses. King Herod comes to mind: one who is not only a political ruler, but also a religious ruler – commonly called “King of the Jews.” Luke chooses, instead, the likes of Caesar: very secular; very powerful; very worldly; very well known throughout the world, even today. It is as if St. Luke is saying to us that this story about a baby and its simple parents, and a birth in the feed trough of a Bethlehem stable, is not like stories told in ancient Greece. It is not set on the lofty heights of Mount Olympus, or on the shores of some mythical island. No, it has its beginnings in the reality of an innkeeper’s stable, and in the midst of some very earthly political rulers. This story is very much a story of this world, intended to touch the people of this world, with a message that is out of this world. Amidst the politics of the world, amidst the poverty of the world, amidst the needs of the world, God comes. Emmanuel happens. Christmas is born.

That message is sometimes hard for us to hear. The stories of Jesus seem so unique and so far away. We see them enshrined in stained glass windows and ancient works of art. We hear of them in the lofty tones of orchestral tributes. It causes us to imagine a setting so different from our own that it becomes hard to remember how real it first was. But that is the essence of the story. Emmanuel. God with us: in the midst of our joys, our successes, and our achievements. God with us: in the midst of our poverty, our hurts, our conflicts, and our loneliness. God with us: in the midst of our politics, our business, our social networks, and our recreation. Amidst all that life has to offer, there is God, accompanying us, strengthening us, giving us purpose and meaning.

It is a story that calls us to worship God, who made it all happen. At Saint Peter, we will gather often over the next few days. Our last Advent mid-week service is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. We’ll gather on Christmas Eve at 4, 6, 8 and 11. And we’ll be back on Christmas Day at 10:00 a.m.  – not to mention our regular Sunday worship schedule on the Third Day of Christmas (December 27) and the Tenth Day of Christmas (January 3). If you can’t join us, log on to the web site of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and find a congregation nearby where you too can gather with other believers to give thanks for the presence of God in the midst of our daily lives.

Merry Christmas, everybody. And may God, who once was born in the manger at Bethlehem, be born anew in your lives. Emmanuel. God with you. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What, in the Christmas story, seems to connect it to its own time and people?
  2. What hurts, needs, and concerns were present that night in Bethlehem?
  3. How did God’s presence in the midst of it make a difference?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What realities in my life cry out for the presence of God?
  2. How might faith become a resource for me, in the midst of my life’s journey?
  3. Who might I share the presence of Christ with, that they too may know this joy?