Sermon Text: Luke 2: 1-20
?In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be taxed.?
In these days, a decree comes from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles reminding me that I should renew my license plates for another year. Dutifully, I attempt to log on to the BMV website to pay to have the privilege of legally driving my car for another year. Of course, I only do this once a year and I always forget my login credentials. After about thirty minutes of trying to figure the system out, I sigh. It probably would have been easier to just write a check and stick it in the mail. Maybe next year I’ll remember my login. Better yet, maybe next year I’ll remember to just get out an envelope and a stamp.
After the license plate renewal, there are other things to tend to ? other bills to pay, Christmas presents to wrap, lunches to pack for school, an e-mail to a friend who is having a difficult week, library books to be found and put in the car for their safe return, a kitchen table still messy with the remnants of dinner.
Tasks finally completed, I drag my weary soul up to bed and I notice the lights on our Christmas tree.
We have them on a timer so we don?t have to worry about turning them on and off. But, I think to myself, maybe next year we?ll skip the timer. Maybe I?d like to have the task of turning them on and off. Maybe if I took the time to take care of the tree, I would notice it more. Or maybe it would just turn into another thing on a very long to do list.
I wonder if Mary and Joseph knew their firstborn son was almost ready to make his debut when they were dragging their weary souls to Bethlehem. I wonder if they were expecting the Advent of Christ when all they were doing was following the rules, going to Bethlehem to pay their taxes.
There is a beautiful children?s picture book called The Nativity. It has the King James text of Luke?s gospel set to sweet illustrations by Julie Vivas. In it, the Angel Gabriel wears floppy, untied combat books which I find endearing. But one of my favorite things is this: the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary for the Annunciation of Christ while she is standing outside hanging her laundry out to dry.
Just going through her to do list. Checking things off. Probably thinking about all the tasks she needs to get done before lunch. When, BAM! Out of nowhere, an angel.
I don?t know about you, but I could really use an angel or two intruding on my life right now. Boots or bare feet ? I?m not picky. But I could really use a break from the hum drum monotony of days that all seem to have to do lists that never get completed.
The things that do seem to break through and shake me to my core are tidings of bad news, not good. A world filled with violence. Friends struggling with life-altering illnesses and events. The death of a longtime church member. News of politicians who can?t seem to get along to save their lives. And, in the last week, argument upon argument about gun control. Speculation about the best ways to save our society from the wrath of ourselves. All of this and it?s 50 degrees outside one day and then thundersnowing the next which makes me weary as I remember all the damage we are doing to our earthly home each day.
Send me an angel, Lord. I need someone to break through the bad news. I need tidings of comfort and great joy.
And then, earlier this week, in a twenty-minute phone call with a friend, the angel showed up.
I was worrying aloud that I?d never find time to get ready for Christmas. We?ve been dealing with sickness upon sickness in our household lately ? which is just par for the course with two children under the age of three, I suppose ? leaving us all exhausted. I admitted to my friend that I wasn?t feeling very Christmassy this year and was really struggling to get my head in the game for Christmas week.
I don?t know if she was wearing floppy old work boots, but she was definitely carrying tidings of comfort and joy when she gently reminded me, ?Sounds like you?ve already found some good news to share on Christmas Eve.?
Incredulous that she could find any good news in my whining and moaning, I said, ?Good news? What??
And she said, ?The good news is that Jesus is born again each Christmas, whether we are ready or not.?
And there it is. Christmas comes ? ready or not.
We who languish in to do lists that never seem to end will see the dawn of Christ. We who spend too much time absorbing horrific images on the news will see the reign of God birthed in a stable. We who feel like we?re on a freight train barreling towards some unknown destination will find ourselves stopped in our tracks by this Christmas.
An angel comes to us and says, ?Behold, you will find him lying in a manger.? And suddenly the sanctuary will be filled with a multitude of the heavenly host singing, ?Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace.?
Ready or not, Christmas is here.
The to do lists will need to be turned over and saved for another day because God comes in the form of an infant child. A nobody born to nobodies in a noplace. Born to a couple of kids who weren?t even married yet, traveling to Bethlehem to file some paperwork with the government. Going through the motions. Caught by surprise when the time for the birth drew near. And then suddenly, Emmanuel. God with us. Ready or not, Christmas is here.
The bad news of our world will be drowned out by the Good News of our God.
Perhaps Max Lucado said it best last week when he wrote a prayer in response to the violence in Connecticut. Lucado prayed, ?Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.?
Mary and Joseph knew a few things about darkness and violence. The shepherds were no stranger to oppression and fear. And yet, in the midst of a time of great fear and anxiety, God showed up.
And God bless those shepherds ? they paid attention. Just doing their stuff, watching sheep, and when an angel came with life-altering news, they paid attention. They packed up their gear and took off to Bethlehem. Risking ridicule, or at the very least, a serious waste of gas money, they took a chance to went to see the thing that had taken place.
They tuned off the 24-hour-news-cycle and put their attention in another place. They reminded themselves that their work could wait for a few hours and they took a break. They paid attention when the angel showed up and they were open to the Advent of Good News.
Christmas comes. Ready or not.
Perhaps you have prepared yourself quite well for this silent night. You?ve lit your Advent candles. You?ve stilled your heart and made room for the Christ Child to be born anew in our world. If so? Christmas comes.
Perhaps you?ve spent the last month partying like crazy. Office parties. Gift exchanges. Black Friday sales. Christmas trimmings. A beautiful tree. A hearth decked out with stockings. Christmas cards mailed on time. If so? Christmas comes.
Perhaps you?ve done little to prepare yourself. Your life has continued relatively uninterrupted by the Advent of the Season. You?ve had your nose to the grindstone ? wrapping up tasks at work, caring for those you love, taking pleasures in the joy of curling up with a book by the fire, planning diligently for the year ahead. If so? Christmas comes.
Christmas comes to all because Christ does not need us to be ready.
Just as God does not need us to invite God into our schools by a schoolwide prayer, God does not need to be invited into our hearts to be present. God is already fully present everywhere.? Christ is born again this day and every day, like it or not. There is no way to ?systematically remove? God from anywhere. There is no way to deny the reality of Christ in our midst. It just is.
Christmas comes no matter what. It?s up to us how to respond. Mary could have simply laughed at that Angel in funny-looking boots when he interrupted her laundry day. But she didn?t.
The shepherds could have ignored the angel who interrupted their work in the fields. They could have written him off as a hallucination. But they didn?t.
And we get to choose, too. The to lists will always be there. The bad news will probably never stop screaming at us from our TVs, our computers, our smartphones. We can ignore the Advent of Christ. We can turn our attention to other places because there will always be things ready and willing to drown out the faint flutter of an angel?s wings.
This is the part of the sermon where you?re expecting me to tell you to stop what you?re doing and pay attention. This is where I?m supposed to tell us to all just quiet ourselves for just one night and really focus on the Birth of Christ.
And I suppose I could do that. I could.
But for tonight, I am just going to rest in this good news instead: Christmas comes, no matter what we do or don?t do.
There is nothing we can do to negate the arrival of God in our lives. There is nothing we can do to shut God out of anyplace. There is nothing we can do to deny the reality that God is in our midst. This night and every night.
After I published this sermon, I received a very helpful and friendly e-mail from Dennis L. Rosebrough, Deputy Commisioner for External Affairs for the Indiana BMW. He told me that you can actually log on without having to remember your password. There?s a big red button on the homepage! I just didn?t see it. Now I know for next year! Additionally, when I originally delivered this sermon, I made a comment about having to pay an online convenience fee. I must have confused the BMV process with some other online process, because Mr. Rosebrough tells me there is no online convenience fee. I apologize for my mistake.
Mike Huckabee said this week that the shootings in Connecticut happened because we have ?systematically removed? God from our schools. If you have not yet read Rachel Held Evans? recent blog post in response to what Mike Huckabee said, you must. http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/god-kept-out