“Discovering the Hinge of Christmas” sermon

“Discovering the Hinge of Christmas”    Luke 2:1-20
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Our church has been here long enough now to have developed some Christmas Eve and Christmas time memories.  It is always a great time for us to celebrate together. One Christmas memory I have is from our first year, when we put on the Shobi Saves Christmas Children’s choir pageant.  It was a combined effort between children from Sunday School, the Lighthouse, and some adults in our church.  Dan Gibbs was with us at that time and his brother built a magnificent replica of the nativity scene, using wood from an old barn.  The play was a musical, but had a few speaking parts that would not involve singing.  It was decided that such parts would be fitting for yours truly and Jay Greenleaf.  No one wanted us to sing, much less say a whole lot.  We would be shepherds, tending our flocks at night and entering into the barn. What I recall about it was not so much our stellar performance on the night of the play, but the practice and rehearsals.  Our two main duties were to stand there and then to kneel.  Stand there. Kneel.  Even though we somehow managed to get those two simple tasks confused often, we had the opportunity to enter the experience of the actual shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.  I thought about that during one rehearsal, with the crunch and smell of hay, the wooden manger, the swaddling clothes, and the beautiful sounds of praise coming from the children.

As we gather here on this Christmas Eve, we can all be shepherds.  We all can enter into this most amazing scene of the birth of our Savior; to take in what really happened. There are many points of entry into the Christmas story, but, in keeping with the shepherds’ role, let us think for a little while on what Luke told about them; about what they had to say and then what they did.

Luke sets the scene for us, telling how the shepherds were out in their fields at night, going about their usual shepherd routine, probably using the dark of the night to reflect on the day they had as well as a prompting to look ahead to the work of the day ahead.  Whatever they were doing, it was suddenly interrupted by the fluttering wings of angel, an announcement about the birth of a child, and the sounds of heaven singing.  Luke said they were terrified, and that must have been an understatement.  He reports what happened next, although there must have been some time of putting themselves back together,  “When 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.

And so they went.  We aren’t given much detail about how they went, just that they went with haste.  I imagine they didn’t take too many pit stops along the way.  We don’t get the idea that they argued about the directions, played traffic bingo or competed with one another to be the first one to see all the 50 kingdoms’ chariot license plates.  No, as Luke puts it, “So they went . . . “  It is what you do when God grabs your attention like that, in the middle of the night, the kind of night when an angel comes out of nowhere with a message that causes you to say nothing but, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place . . .”

What happened next was that they found that for which they went.  They found what the angel had told them, what the heavenly chorus was singing about, what the bright light that had shone all around them was for.  It was just as they had been told.  I’m not sure what else they had ever found in life, other than, perhaps, that the world of shepherding was not so exciting. What they experienced in Bethlehem, however, was a find they would never forget.  The angel was right. The songs reverberating from heaven were true. The glory of the baby was unmistakable.

So they went.  So they found.  And so they praised.  As they took in the reality of what they saw in the manger, how it truly was as the angel had spoken, they praised God and rejoiced in what their eyes—and hearts—beheld.  They had gone from being terrified by an angelic interruption one lonely night to being comforted by a starlight incarnation this holy night.  Their mundane existence in the fields with sheep would no longer be the same.  They would never be lonely out there again, as they would never forget this night.  They would never stop remembering what took place there.  They would never stop talking about it.  And so they praised.

It seems that the newest trend within theater is to get the audience involved in the play. NPR recently posted a story about this,

Several productions in New York’s smaller theaters aren’t content with providing passive experiences — the audience is asked to participate. Here Lies Love, a new David Byrne musical about Imelda Marcos at the Public Theater, is set in a disco and the audience moves around, from scene to scene, dancing all the while. Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 1812, is an electronic pop opera based on a portion of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and is set in a Russian restaurant where audiences are served a meal and vodka as part of the performance. And the audience explores a run-down hotel in Sleep No More, a dance/theater experience based loosely on Macbeth, following actors up and down floors and into different rooms. 

One of the directors, Jonathan Hochwald, who Robert Siegel interviewed, said about the audience participation, It allows the audience to roam, to discover, to have that sense of adventure.

Doesn’t our Christmas Gospel text do the same, giving us opportunity to roam around, discover, and experience God’s adventure? This Christmas Eve, you and I are invited to enter the shepherd’s fields at night and travel with them to see this thing that God has done.  So let us go. Our four weeks of Advent have been leading us to this point.  Like the prophets, the Israelites in Babylonian exile, the people in the Jordan River with John the Baptist, and these shepherds, we have been given a sign that God is up to something in our world.  Let us hear the great heavenly invitation tonight to go and see in Jesus what God was and is doing for all people. How can we not go with urgency to see with our own eyes and treasure with our own hearts this thing that God has done, this gift God has revealed for all to see?

So as we go, so let us find.  What have you found in the manger in Bethlehem?  What do you see when you approach it each year, peering into it at the Christ child? Your answer to that may be a testimony of the greatest discovery of your life.  Your answer may be that you have seen it but you haven’t understood what the big deal is.  Your answer may be that you’ve seen it so many times, so many Christmas’ past that you are seeing what you’ve always seen. Whatever the answer, the greatest part of Christmas to miss is what can be found in the manger.  Looking—really seeing—into it you will find that a promise has been fulfilled. A God has taken on flesh.  A Messiah has emerged.  A new way of life has started.  A solution to separation has been given.  A light in the darkness has been lit.  A hope for the hopeless has come alive.  A remedy for the world’s ailments has been delivered.  A liberator for the oppressed has entered.  A defender of justice has arrived.  A king of a kingdom has been introduced.  So let us find.

As we go, as we find, so let us praise. May our praise be extended to our Savior and to our world as we share this thing that God has done with everyone around us, proclaiming the Good News we have found.  Let us move from this place of birth out into the world with melodies like the angels, with hearts full of treasure like Mary, and with mouths full of exaltation like the shepherds.  Let us echo the words in the third stanza of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.

It has been said that, The hinge of history is on the stable door of Bethlehem. (Ralph Sockman) It leads us into the scene of God’s arrival in Jesus. It leads us out into a world desperately in need to hear its Good News.

So let us go.

Audio version is here.

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