january 13, 2019
worship and sunday school cancelled
due to snow.
Sunday school, 9:00 for all ages
Worship begins at 10:30 with
Each of us is on a unique spiritual journey.
Here, through study and prayer, worship and service,
we discover more fully who God intends for us to be,
Christmas Eve Sermon:
Everyone looks so great tonight! Showered and clean, fancy clothes, brushed hair and teeth. Probably at least some of you have been cleaning your house, too, and putting up decorations, maybe getting ready for guests. And wrapped presents in pretty paper and gift bags, maybe baked some cookies? There’s so much we do to get ready for Christmas, isn’t there – So much it can all start to feel a bit hectic, maybe even stressful. We so want everything to be just so, just right. We want to be our shiniest best. We want Christmas to be perfect.
One of my favorite Advent hymns has a line that says: “Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table. People look east and sing today – Love the guest is on the way.” “Love the guest” – that means the baby Jesus is on his way – Both literally, as we anticipate his birth, and spiritually, as we open our hearts to the ways love shows up this time of year.
And it’s all good – Somehow in the getting ready and prepared for Christmas, for baby Jesus, we do get into the Christmas spirit. We know God is in the midst of all of that - our hearts are softened, and our eyes all aglow, and our days merry and bright and it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Right?
But: what does this have to do with the Christmas story? Not much. Sure, the manger scenes in our homes, and the Christmas Pageant stable scene with our children – There everything is more or less tidied up.
But you know what? Let’s consider what it was really like for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ first glimpse of this whole new world. First off, cold and damp. Average temperatures of 45, humidity around 70%. The kind of cold that makes you feel clammy and chilled to the bone. You know – A bit like the weather we had recently here in Maryland. Grey, drizzly, cold.
And the animals – the domesticated cows, and pigs. Surrounded by lots of hay. Even the nicest, cleanest hay doesn’t feel all that nice to us, at least not to lie down in. It feels pokey and rough. Maybe you’ve tried to sleep on hay, or been on a hayride. It’s not luxurious, is it.
And chances are, that hay probably wasn’t all that clean – Who knows the last time the stable had been mucked out – You know what gets mucked out? Straw that is dirty – That has been dirtied by those animals just living their animal lives. And their animal lives don’t smell so great – Okay. It definitely would have stunk. Really really badly.
To keep warm on that long ride and long night, Mary and Joseph probably had sturdy durable wool blankets – Not cashmere or finely spun, either.
And those swaddling clothes – Maybe you are imagining nice soft pieces of cloth, like a baby blanket - But it would have been more like strips of rough cloth. And no diapers, and no wipes, They probably used straw instead of wipes, and other bits of cloth for diapers.
You know what else was in that manger? Fleas. Yeah. We don’t think about that, do we – But fleas get cold in the winter too, and so they hang out on those nice warm furry animals. Same with the barn flies. And guess what? Maggots. Yep. They were there too, along with spiders, probably. And I’m not making this up - I read it on the internet!
And Mary and Joseph? In traveling clothes. Walking for more than a week. No nice rest stops to clean up in. No nice Motel 6’s or Marriotts with clean sheets for a good night sleep and a warm shower and a change of clothes. They definitely are not at their best, that first Christmas.
So, the reality - it’s all a whole lot worse than we usually imagine – We knew no sanitary, antiseptic hospital room; no cozy birth center, but we don’t really think about how it really was, bugs and all. Jesus shows up in a whole heap of mess, of all sorts.
Anyone here feel that has described certain times in your life? Like every day is cold and rainy and dreary; like nothing is the way you thought it would be or should be. It looks bad, and smells bad, and feels bad. Guess what?
That is where Jesus showed up. In the muck. The muckiest muck teeming with lice and fleas and maggots and dirty cows and stinky pigs. I’m glad our church doesn’t smell bad, and I’m glad we all got dressed up and cleaned up and showered and used mouth wash before we came here. I’m glad we aren’t sharing space with horses and cows and pigs and fleas. I’m glad we have heat, and electricity, and I’m glad too that we can turn off the lights and see each other in the soft light of candles.
But I’m really, really, really glad to know God’s love is in the thick of things. In the midst of the mess. Down in the muck of life. Maybe your life isn’t so bad right now – Great! But we know in a blink, it can and does and will change. Sure, it’s Christmas Eve, but still - Someone will say something offensive and hurtful, either intentionally or not. Someone’s feelings will get hurt, someone won’t appreciate their gift, someone will give a most awful gift and be hurt it isn’t appreciated. For some this is the last Christmas, for some the first Christmas alone. Some carry burdens of sorrow and grief, fear and worry. No one, not one single person’s Christmas, will be perfect. Even here, in this family of faith, even here we have our broken hearts and hurt feelings and our grudges and frustrations and sorrow.
But, I’m glad we have nights like this one – Nights that are so beautiful, where somehow the hidden beauty of everyone and everything shows up better in soft candle light. Nights of tradition, and ritual, that bring us together, nourish our souls, fill our hearts, give us hope, peace, joy and love. Sometimes even in spite of ourselves. But don’t let all of this make you think that’s what God expects our life to look like. God’s own life, begun this night in this tiny baby, didn’t look like that, not one bit. It looked and felt and smelled and tasted and sounded well, unpleasant. To put it mildly. But that’s where God’s love gets born. That’s where Jesus shows up: In the dark night, in the crowded stable with the lice and pigs, the flies and cows. And Jesus shows up when the world seems uncertain and rulers are trying to outdo each other. It was a pretty uncertain time in history, and the future looked pretty scary even then.
But that’s where God chose to be born, so apparently, that’s where we have to look for God’s love. We might wish for the perfect Christmas; we get something better but a little more tattered around the edges: God showing up in the world, in our world, in the muck and mess of this very human life. Jesus Christ, born this night, in our very human hearts. Thanks be to God.