Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers, on this day, the day of our Lord Jesus’ coming into the world. Amen.
“In those days…” our gospel begins, setting the stage for the miraculous event that is about to occur. “In those days…” people with a lot of power, the emperor and the governor, decided to take a census and because they made a decision people were forced to halt work, leave their homes, travel to inconvenient places and submit to the authority of the people with the power. “In those days…” – it’s a misleading phrase, because it sounds like it’s setting this story in the past, but I don’t think it is. I think we are always living in those days.
Maybe you’ve already had one of those days today. Maybe you’re arriving here this evening after a long day at the office, the last day before a long weekend, and you’ve had to submit to the power of people who struggle to act respectfully. If so, you too are living in those days.
Maybe you’ve been living in those days all year. Maybe you have been among the millions of Americans unemployed this year because of the recession. You have been asked to fill out forms and stand in lines and report back on your activities and ask for assistance – and you have done it because the people who had the things you needed had the authority to ask you for those things. If so, you too have been living in those days.
Maybe your whole life has felt like it’s been taking place in those days. Maybe that’s because of some event in your past that holds on to you like a bad winter cold, refusing to allow you a deep breath of fresh air. Maybe you’ve lived under or around people who neglected their responsibilities for you as a child, or as an adult, and no matter where you go or what you do to try and leave it behind, you still feel trapped in those days.
Or maybe there is some quality about you – the way you speak, or the way you worship, or the way you look, or the way you love – that makes you feel like you’re stuck back in those days, days when people thought it was alright to treat you like less than a person because of a difference that God gave you as a gift, but the world has treated like a curse.
And if none of those situations describes you, then maybe there is another reason you feel like you are also living in those days, and you wish someone – a parent, or a teacher, or a pastor, or a friend or co-worker – would see what is going on in your life and call it out for what it is so that you could stop living in those days and finally arrive at “this day.”
“This day” is the day that this beautiful sanctuary gives witness to tonight. It is a day filled with light that is growing brighter even in the darkness of winter nights. It is on this day that you perhaps leave the office behind to be with parents or children or friends to celebrate the richness of life in the simplest of ways. It is on this day that we give thanks that amidst massive unemployment, the number of neighbors living without work is dropping. It is on this day that we rejoice at the news this morning that millions of our neighbors will now be covered by health insurance and will be able to breathe more easily when they think about their financial health. Because on this day we are hearing news that signals an end to those days, news that is intended to erase all the painful, wrong-headed things you might have learned from the people in your childhood or your present day surroundings.
The gospel reading for tonight assures us that at the end of one of those days, an angel appeared far, far away from anything that had anything to do with power or authority. An angel showed up in the middle of pasturing field, before some shepherds, people who were always having one of those days, and they were the first to hear:
“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of a 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.” (Luke 2:10-12)
This day begins with a message from God for all the people, but one that comes first – because it is needed there most desperately – among those people who just keep having one of those days. The message is this: God sees you. God loves you. God understands both the unjust oppression and the deep suffering that characterizes so much of human life, and God refuses to leave you alone. God is coming for you, and God is already with you.
Here, tonight, on this day, right now. All of these candles, all of these preparations, all of the scriptures we have been reading Sunday after Sunday in Advent. All of this is God reaching out to us and through us to one another to try and say something we can hear: We are precious children of God. Like the tiny alabaster Jesus placed in the manger of our crèche tonight. Like the infant born to Mary and Joseph. We are all beloved children of the God who is coming into the world to make human life more holy – to make human life more human.
“To you is born this day…” That’s the most important part of the story, I think. What we celebrate this night is something intended for you – not in some abstract sense, but in a personal sense. This is news that is being delivered to you. Whatever it is that keeps you trapped in those days, the good news of Christmas is that God wants to free you from your captivity to that past, and to set you free to be fully alive this day. Something is being born – it’s not just the baby Jesus in the manger, it’s something that happening to you on this day. Something is being born in you, and in me, in all of us that is going to free the world from those days.
It’s an amazing concept. I know. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to risk hoping for. But it is the meaning of this night. And when you hear the message – whether that’s now, or when you’re falling asleep tonight, or when the sun comes up tomorrow, or ten years from now – when you hear that message coming from whatever angel God sends to you – you will want to do what the shepherds did that night. You will want to share that good news with the world.
If that day has already arrived, if you are living this day already, then rejoice this night. Give glory to God and praise God for all that you have heard and seen. If not, if the good news has not reached you yet, then I pray that you will treasure these words, these memories, this night, and ponder them in your heart.
This day is for you. Amen.