Christmas Eve 2011

Luke 2:1-20
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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.

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And 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!”

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

Children’s Time: Why do you suppose God chose to come into the world as a baby? I mean, if God really wanted to get our attention don’t you think he could have shown up on TV? (I know, they didn’t have American Idol back then) He could have come with fireworks and parachuted down into the middle of a football field at halftime. But that wasn’t God’s style. God came as a baby. So, what do babies need? To be fed, to have their diapers changed, to be rocked in the night. To be loved. I think love is the lesson of Christmas. “How am I supposed to fall in love with these people I created?” God must’ve thought. “I know! I’ll come as a baby!” And we all know that that baby grew up to become the man, Jesus, who gave his life for the whole world and was raised from the dead at Easter so we never have to fear death. What a gift God has given us in his son! Let’s thank God for babies and for sending us Jesus, his son.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I can still remember the first time I gave a box of chocolate to a girl. She didn’t like it. Oh, it’s not that she didn’t like chocolate. She just didn’t like me. Maybe I had come on too strong. Or just wasn’t her type. Who knows – when you’re 14! I think her mom talked her into getting me something in return; because next time they stopped over for a visit she had a gift for me: a bottle of Brut cologne with a matching soap-on-a-rope. Not bad. But the fact that it was still in the paper sack, with the receipt in the bottom – that pretty much sealed my fate with her.

So, what does it mean to receive a gift from someone? I mean, we’re pretty good at being givers. We like to believe that the Christmas season brings out the best in us. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, who learned to be generous, we have this idea that it’s better to give than to receive. That’s because receiving is something altogether different. Why do we sometimes feel obligated to give something in return, if we receive? Or, even going so far as to say: “I just can’t accept this gift.”

I haven’t heard it, but I’m told there’s a show on KDWB where people can call in and share their stories and they decide whether it’s “Sweet or Stalker.” What is true giving and what is just manipulation? What is true love and what is just creepy-get-a-restraining-order obsession?

Jesus is neither a sweet talker nor a creepy stalker – he’s the savior. God may have come as a baby – but this little man-child grew into young leader, who lived a human life – who faced temptation and hardship – who suffered, bled and died on a cross, for the sins of the whole world! Who was raised in victory once and for all!

When you come to think of it, we really have very little to do with Christmas – it’s sort of beyond us all – beyond our control as we stand here in awe at the manger. We didn’t ask for this gift. It comes without our consent. And yet, according to the angels, this is good news of great joy for all people.

50 years ago, most of us weren’t even here when a handful of families gathered at the Landfall Village Hall and decided to start a church here in Oakdale. There, on the shores of Tanner’s Lake a church was born. We didn’t ask for it. We had little to do with it. But just imagine all the lives that have been touched these 50 years in this place! Vows that were made, loved ones laid to rest after all their labors. Children who were taught, land that was bought, hammers that were pounded while the cornerstone was grounded. Stories that were shared of how God transformed your lives, tears that were shed for the undeserved gift God gives.

And here we are today, ready to turn the page on 2011 and write a new chapter for 2012 at Holy Cross – who knows what the next 50 years will hold for this community of faith? All we know for certain is that we each have a role to play. The future is pregnant with promise. Do you see how this never was just about Mary & Joseph and Jesus and the shepherds? Do you see yourself in this story along with the wise men and the angels? There’s rawness and urgency in this story. There’s real work to be done.

In our lesson for tonight, Mary was in the moment – all she had heard from the angel Gabriel was coming true: “You will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus.” Nine months of waiting and preparation had come down to this: riding on a donkey half the night, giving birth in a little town of Bethlehem, with nothing but a manger to lay him in. It was her first time – all she could do was surrender to this child who was coming, ready or not. Wild-eyed, biting her lower lip, she pushed harder than she’d ever pushed before (they don’t call it labor for nothing).

And then it was over. Or was it just beginning? Thirty years later, this Jesus would grow into a man who would feed the hungry, and comfort the grieving, saying, “Those who lose their lives for my sake, will find it.”

So, what are you pushing for these days? What in your life is emerging – coming forth – ready or not? Maybe it’s beyond your control and you feel as if you’re just out there, barely hanging on. What hard labor lies in your future? What pushing that needs to be done to get there?

All of who you are – all you’ve experienced up until this point – have led you to this moment. All the waiting has culminated into one final push where you give it all you’ve got – even as you surrender to the moment.

~When you slide onto that piano bench and open your recital music for one last time.
~When you take your place at the front of the class and call your students to attention.
~When your dispatcher sends you that 911 call and you put on the lights and siren.
You’re in the moment.
~When your eyes meet the gaze of the next customer, ready to scan her first item.
~When you steady the ladder for your coworker up above.
~When you ease out onto Interstate 694 knowing that most of us have forgotten how to drive in this stuff.
You’re in the moment.
~When you take out your checkbook or click on your PayPal account to commit to a cause.
~When you turn over the test and the teacher says, “You may begin.”
~When you make your stand through the pain and confusion throwing yourself at the mercy of Almighty God.

You surrender all that you are to what will be and you give it all you’ve got.

So much in life is beyond our control – we can only surrender to what is unfolding around us. And yet, we have a job to do – there’s work to be done – babies to be fed – meals to prepare – gifts to be given – and received.

Thanks be to God, for the gift of Jesus Christ – the Savior of the world! Receive him with joy and with faith this Christmas! Then get out there and push!

Now, the peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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