2016 Christmas Eve Sermon

Posted on Jan 17, 2017 in All Posts, Sermons

Ordinary People Meet Extraordinary Events
Luke 2: 1-20
By Rev. Alex McLean
Christmas Eve 2016

  • When I think about this scripture, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “God must love the common man, he made so many of them.”
  • The main characters of tonight’s story are ordinary people.
  • We have a young couple, Mary and Joseph.
  • They are not wealthy, they are not powerful, they are not famous.
  • In fact, Mary delights in the fact of just how ordinary she is.
  • In the Magnificat, she says: ““My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
  • Mary knows just how humble and ordinary she is.
  • The theme of humility runs through the whole account of Jesus’s birth.
  • Mary and Joseph are common people.
  • They are the people that God must love, according to Abraham Lincoln, because he made so many of them.
  • It is not just that God is selecting humble people over proud people, but that there is a reason to all of this.
  • Again in the Magnificat, Mary says: “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”
  • There we are with that term “humble” again.
  • It is the humble who are rewarded.
  • We have seen humility in action with John the Baptist.
  • We recall when he says of Jesus: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
  • Have you ever felt that humility was the right response to something wonderful that is happening?
  • Have you ever been humbled by something in your life?
  • Did your family throw you a party, and brought back all the old friends you hadn’t seen in so long?
  • They spoke to what a good and kind person you were, and at the conclusion of the evening you were left speechless.
  • It is an awesome thing to be humbled, truly humbled.
  • It is hard to be brought up entirely speechless by something that happens.
  • But it was something like that that happened on the first Christmas Eve.
  • As I think about it, I am reminded of when Moses meets God on the top of Mt. Sinai.
  • Moses is brought up short by the burning bush.
  • It is burning but the fire does not consume.
  • God’s voice tells him to take off his sandals because he is standing on holy ground.
  • Moses, in many ways, was another ordinary person, the kind of person God loved, because he made so many of them.
  • He was a shepherd. 
  • It was true that he was brought up in the Pharaoh’s household, but by the time he is ready to lead the people Israel he is just a shepherd.
  • Furthermore, he is not sure that he has the leadership skills for the job that God has called him to.
  • He is not sure that he has the right voice for speaking.
  • So he is another ordinary man to whom something extraordinary happens.
  • With God’s help he can achieve the impossible.
  • He can become the good and wise leader of the Jewish people.
  • So I have quoted Abraham Lincoln: “God must love the common man, he made so many of them.”
  • There is a slight variation of this quote that also fits the Christmas Eve situation.
  • Some of you have probably heard of the college basketball coach Jim Valvano.
  • He was a great coach who won a national championship in a big upset a number of years ago. 
  •   A few years after that he contracted cancer and died.
  • During his fight with cancer he said: “God must love ordinary people, because he made so many of us. But everyday ordinary people do extraordinary things.”
  • This is the story of Mary and Joseph.
  • They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
  • They are an inspiration to us.
  • They trekked the long miles between Nazareth and Bethlehem.
  • Not in order to be close to family during Jesus’s birth, but to be registered for a tax.
  • What could be more ordinary and mundane than being registered with the state authority in order to be taxed.
  • But they were ordinary people following orders like ordinary people do.
  • They were probably aware that they received no representation through the taxation.
  • They were occupied by a foreign army and foreign government.
  • They had to pay taxes even though they got nothing out of it.
  • We often say today that “our tax dollars” are paying for some large public project, maybe a new road or a new dam.
  • We believe that we will have the opportunity to use the new public work to make life a little easier.
  • Mary and Joseph had no such hope.
  • They simply paid taxes because it was what they had to do.
  • They were not rebels who started a revolt by not paying taxes.
  • No Joseph and Mary were not like that.
  • They did as they were told.
  • Both of them knew something more was going on than a Roman census.
  • Both had been told by angels that they were to be part of God’s plan of salvation.
  • Mary would give birth to a boy.
  • They would name him “Jesus” which means “He saves”.
  • In other words, he would save people from their sins.
  • The Jewish people were looking for a savior.
  • But they thought the savior would rescue them from the heavy hand of Roman rule.    
  • But Jesus’ saving took another form.
  • He rescued people from their sin, and he granted eternal life to all who believed.
  • This great revelation of God would all take place through the common and ordinary people of Mary and Joseph.
  • During this census, God would act in surprising ways.
  • The powers that be were carrying out a directive for the entire Roman Empire.
  • With a certain proud exaggeration, the Romans thought this encapsulated the entire civilized world.
  • But as powerful as the Roman Empire was it did not control the whole globe.
  • What’s more God was acting through the commands of the authoritarian government.
  • Jesus would be born in the midst of this great upheaval of people for the sake of taxation.
  • There is a well known person, Marion Wright Edelman.
  • She started the Children’s Defense Fund.
  • Her autobiography is impressive.
  • She was the first African-American to practice law in the state of Mississippi.
  • But she has said something which resonates with this theme of ordinary people doing ordinary things which add up to extraordinary results.
  • One quote of hers I remember is: “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”
  • Think of the small daily differences that Joseph and Mary made.
  • Both had been informed by an angel that Mary would give birth to Immanuel, which means “God with Us”.
  • God would be incarnated in Jesus Christ.
  • God had done many miraculous things up to this point.
  • God had created the heavens and the earth.
  • God had led the people out of slavery and led them to the promised land.
  • God had sent the prophets to call the people back to God.
  • But God had never become human.
  • God had used humans to speak his message, but God had never incarnated himself.
  • Incarnation literally means “enfleshment”.
  • In the Gospel of John it says, ” And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.”
  • This is the miracle of Christmas.
  • This is the great gift of God to us.
  • When we come to Christ, we can dismiss certain fears.
  • We no longer have to worry about eternal life or abundant life.
  • God has sent his son so that we might follow him, and lead a meaningful life now and always.
  • God chose ordinary people to share this message with the world.
  • As if they were following the advice of Marion Wright Edelman, Mary and Joseph just kept doing the small things right.
  • They headed for Bethlehem even though Mary was 9 months pregnant.
  • They did not become upset when there was no room at the Inn. 
  • They found a place to give birth to the Christ.
  • You can say that even though the world was created through the Christ, he was an outsider from the beginning.
  • He was not born in a guest room, or a royal court, but in a place where farm animals live.
  • I think what I take away from Mary and Joseph, and also the shepherds in the field, is that they cooperated with God’s grace.
  • They were not a stumbling block to what God wanted to do.
  • It was surely a challenge to travel the miles between Nazareth and Bethlehem.
  • It was surely a challenge to be pregnant without being fully married.
  • It was surely a challenge to give birth in a room for animals, and place the newborn in a feed stall.
  • It was surely a challenge for the shepherds to leave their flocks to witness the great event of Immanuel, God with us.
  • But they all did it.
  • They all carried out their part of the plan.
  • So tonight, I am thinking of all the small things that people do to make Christmas special.
  • All of the ordinary or common things that people do because by doing them you are really cooperating with God’s grace.
  • Remember Abraham Lincoln: “God must love the common man, he made so many of them.”
  • Or Jim Valvano: “God must love ordinary people, because he made so many of us. But everyday ordinary people do extraordinary things.”
  • In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.