Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sermon for December 24

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
December 24, 2008
Text: Luke 2:1-20

Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you ever walked through a village or town in the middle of the night? Have ever had to leave for some matter of business at three or four in the morning? Have you ever noticed how quiet it is? Have you ever noticed how still it is. Nothing is moving. Nothing is making nose. You get the same feeling getting out to a deer stand in the predawn. You almost feel like you are intruding upon something. Winter nights seem especially calm. The quiet of the night is a time of peace. It can be disturbing in a sense as well. It closes you in with your thoughts. Sadly, our thoughts are not nearly as peaceful as the night. Of course we don’t get much peace and quiet at this time of year Frederic - not with the snowmobile trail running through town. Of course I should apply something I once heard. A friend from seminary was assigned to his first parish. He was from the city. The parsonage at his church was just downwind from a large pig farm. His parishioners were quick to explain that this was the smell of money. I should comfort myself that the sounds from the snowmobile trail are the sounds of tourist dollars. But most of the time, nights are quiet. They are a time of peace and stillness.

Compare this to a king’s entrance. A king comes and his soldiers go out and take control of the streets. His ministers come and set up his court and his golden throne. Musicians are lined up to play music of festive pomp. Enemies are arrested and thrown into jail or maybe even executed. Everyone is warned to be ready - or else! One day Christ will come just in that manner. And every knee will bow to Christ. Either we will bow willingly, freely acknowledging Christ as our King, or we will be forced to our knees before being carted off to hell. Christ will come one day with more pomp, more glory, more awe, and more power than any earthly king ever imagined. But that is in the future - when His kingdom upon this earth will be brought to a close. However, it is not the first time Christ came to earth. He first came to establish His kingdom. And that arrival was very different.

When All was still, and it was midnight, Your Almighty Word descended from the royal throne. This is the traditional liturgical verse that introduces the Christmas Introit. The King has come into the world. But it’s not the way kings come. His army of angels didn’t sweep the streets in preparation. A palace wasn’t prepared for Him. There were no trumpet fanfares. There was only the stillness of night. A young couple arrived late in the day and took lodging in a stable - probably a cave used as a stable. This was not a mark of great poverty, but a common practice. They had no escort and very likely, didn’t even have a donkey. In fact, most Jewish girls of the time would have been insulted if their husband showed up with a donkey for them to ride. They would have considered it an insult. These were women who prided themselves on their heartiness and vigor. This had been part of their culture for centuries. We read in Exodus: “...the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." This was most likely a young couple, though Scripture does not tell us their age. The husband was probably about seventeen or eighteen. The wife about twelve or thirteen. She would have went off by herself and quietly given birth, cut the cord herself, and so forth. Jewish girls were well prepared to be mothers, and knew all that was needed. And that was it. There was nothing more to it. In the still, quiet of the night, the King arrived to establish His kingdom.

This is not unusual for God. We might consider Elijah who journeyed to Mount Sinai to speak with God. There was a fire, an earthquake, a whirlwind, but God was not in any of them. Then when all this had passed, Christ spoke to Elijah in a still small voice. Christ quietly gave His message to Elijah. There would be a new prophet in his place, kings would fall and many would die. Though the message promised great violence and upheaval, the Christ spoke His words softly. Maybe this where Teddy Roosevelt got the idea of talking softly and carrying a big stick.

Like Mary and Joseph, the shepherds were quietly going about their business. They were watching in the stillness of the night. Perhaps it was lambing time. Some of them were undoubtedly asleep, as they divided in watches. Their quiet was suddenly shattered. But wait a minute. The angels came to tell the shepherds that their king had come. That’s backwards. The angels were supposed to tell the world the king was about to come - at least that would be how an earthly king would do it. And further, what are they doing bothering with shepherds. Why weren’t they telling Caesar or King Herod? Why weren’t they telling the high priest? Everything is backwards. But Christ stands everything on its head.

Why does Christ come into the world in this peculiar way? Why does He come quietly, almost as a thief in the night? Because Christ is a different kind of king laying claim to a different kind of kingdom. The pomp, the glory, the raw display of power would come one day - a day that is still in the future. But not that night. That night Christ came quietly in the stillness of the night. He was coming to bring peace between God and man. He was coming to be the perfect Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. He wasn’t coming to compel us to bend our knees before Him with swords at our back. He was coming to invite us to kneel before the manger and see the face of a loving and gracious God. He is inviting us to kneel and see our Savior from sin and death. In the stillness and quiet of the night, Christ was born. He was born to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin - yours and mine. He was born to die in our place, so that we might live with Him forever. He was born to rise from the dead and ascend to the highest place of glory and honor in heaven. He was born to judge the living and the dead. But most all He was born to invite us into His gracious presence, not as conquered subjects, but as His brother. For in the end that is what Christ wants us to see when we look into that manger - our brother.

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