“Taking in Christmas“ Luke 2:1-20
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Christmas Eve, 2021
Audio is here
How well do you know the Christmas story? In a survey of 1,000 adults who were asked, “How much of the Christmas story found in the Bible could you tell from memory?”, only 22% indicated they could do so.1 That’s a pretty low number and shows that we may just not know the story very well these days. Maybe the place to start in getting it right is by paying attention to the various characters in it. We’ve just heard about them and one thing common to them all is how they took in what they heard and saw as Jesus was born.
Joseph took it all in and must have still been in shock after hearing that Mary was with child, especially one that would be the savior of the world. I’m sure he had a hard time doing his carpentry work with all of that on his mind and in his heart. And when the day came for Jesus to be born, Joseph would see, hear, and feel the reality of what he had been hearing about their child.
When we read that Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart,” we understand that she felt deep within her the promise of those words from Isaiah we heard earlier of how the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; that unto them a child has been born who would be everything Isaiah prophesied: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Mary took all of this in and felt the joy of what she had borne from God.
The Shepherds also took in what they heard and saw that night. We can be quite sure they never forgot what it was like to see that bright heavenly light shining in the darkness. What they heard from an angel would ring in their ears for the rest of their lives as they heard for themselves what God had to say about the child born in Bethlehem, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” They took in those words by going to see Jesus, and they were full of joy.
We really aren’t much different than the people there that day. We live in a time of uncertainty, experience fear in our fragility, exist in a world with oppression, violence, poverty, disease, all of which remind us of our dependence on being rescued and saved from it all. So, today, this Christmas season, we have the opportunity, like Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds, to take in what we have hear and see from God about Jesus.
To take something in requires that we have room for it; that we recognize what is missing in our lives and what it is that can fill us. I wonder this Christmas Eve, do we really have room for Jesus? I mean, do we really sense our need for him in our lives full of things, technology, and self-sufficiency?
And how is it that we actually take in what we’ve heard and seen of the Christ child? Mary helps us here with how she did two specific things—treasured all of what she heard and pondered it in her heart. That’s something we can do as well. Treasuring what we have heard about Jesus happens when we hang on to the words God has given us about him. We make sure they are around us not just on Sundays as we hear about Jesus in the gospels, songs, and creeds but when we go to work, school, the grocery store, or wherever we happen to be. Treasuring them means that we value and prioritize them, as coming from God and God’s messengers directly to us, for what we need to hear and know.
Then we ponder what we’ve treasured about Jesus, not just collecting these treasures of Christ into our lives but reflecting on what they mean for us, for our neigbhors, and our world. Like the shepherds, we are to act on them; to make sense of them by seeking after Jesus with our hearts, minds, and activities. We do whatever we can to go to Jesus and experience him for ourselves. Certainly, this leads to telling others what we’ve discovered but first it means that we have spent time looking at him and reflecting on what he is bringing to the world. As we’ve just heard in the words of O Holy Night, pondering Christ leads us to fall on our knees in the wonder of what God has done. One way we can do that tonight, on the eve of our Savior’s birth, is to recognize his real presence here with us in the bread and cup of Communion.
Frederick Buechner has a sermon about the shepherds and what took place when Jesus was born. In it he tells about a movie he saw. It was La Dolce Vita, a film with a scene where a helicopter is transporting a statue of Jesus into Rome to the Vatican. Along the route, the pilot and crew have a bit of fun with this statue, as it dangles below the copter with its arms stretched out. They fly over a field with workers who react jubilantly once they see this robed flying figure is Jesus. Then they fly over a building with a swimming pool on top, full of bikini-clad girls, and circle around them as they try to get their phone numbers. All the while, the camera contrasts the sacred stone of the statue with the profane flesh of the humans below. As the helicopter finally gets to St. Peter’s Basilica, the camera focuses on the face of Jesus and the crowd in the movie theater suddenly becomes quiet. Buechner points to the contrast between those two and makes this point about it:
There is so much about the whole religious enterprise that seems superannuated and irrelevant and as out of place in our age as an antique statue is out of place in the sky. But just for the moment itself, say, of Christmas, there can be only silence as something comes to life, some spirit, some hope; as something is born again into the world that is so strange and new and precious that not even a cynic can laugh although he might be tempted to weep.
The face in the sky. The child born in the night among beasts. The sweet breath and steaming dung of beasts. And nothing is ever the same again.2
Indeed, nothing is ever the same again when we take in with our eyes and ears what was in the manger there in Bethlehem.