2021-12-24 Christmas Eve Service and Sermon
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A man went to his wife of 43 years and asked “What do you want for Christmas, dear?” After a long pause, his wife’s eyes filled up with tears. She said “This may come as a surprise to you dear after all these years, but . . . I want a divorce for Christmas.” Silence. “Oh,” the man replied, “I really wasn’t planning on spending that much!” Nothing gets you into the Christmas spirit quite like divorce court, hey? A bit of an off-topic for the Christmas season we might think. Shouldn’t we be talking about hope, peace, joy and love? Presents? Decorations? Trees? Lights? Shepherds? Angels? Well it might surprise you, but there was talk of another divorce at Christmas time a couple thousand years ago.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (MT1:18-19). The Scriptures bear a very human witness to it. Smack dab in the middle of the very first Christmas, there was talk and rumours of divorce. Mainly because of the scandal of it all. Mary and Joseph were engaged, legally married but the relationship had not been consummated. And Mary was pregnant, undeniable proof she was a horrible sinner! A big no-no in the eyes of God, a big no-no in the eyes of her family and a big no-no in the prying, judgmental eyes of her town.
Of course we’re not talking about Mary being a two-bit floozie. Rather, we’re talking about the very miraculous working of God Almighty. Mary indeed was a virgin, and yet, she was with child. How can this be? It betrays the natural order of things in our world. It betrays logic and reason. Mary knew what was going on because God had sent her a Divine memo in the form of an Angel, and she agreed to God’s plan with a servant heart. “For nothing will be impossible with God!” the Angel Gabriel told her. But to the rest of the world, she was a sinner, and a very public one at that. The looks and glares from others, the social embarrassment, it would not have been an easy time for her to say the least.
And then, there was Joseph. The Scriptures tell us he was a “just man.” He was a good guy and didn’t want to put Mary to shame. Or death, for that matter. One of the old-timey Jewish cures for societies’ ills was simply to put sinful people to death under a big ol’ pile of stones. And, I’m sure the thought crossed Joseph’s mind. It was obvious after all. The proof kept getting bigger every day! Mary obviously cheated on him. He knew it wasn’t his baby in her tummy. He knew that baby wouldn’t look like him when it was born. But, because he was a good guy, a God fearing, righteous man, Joseph would go above and beyond the law. He’d simply divorce her with no Jerry Springer paternity test, no big public display, no accusations of adultery, no lawyers, no trials, no trip to the train station, no justice.
“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (MT 1:20-21) All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)” (MT 1:23) And God throws Joseph a rope. He receives a heavenly vision, filling him in on Divine details of the master plan to save the world.
Fear not, Joseph. Don’t worry about this situation. It may seem like insanity. It may test your faith to the last straw, but God’s got it all in control. There is a plan Joseph and you are part of it – just not the part you thought! For thousands of years, people have been talking about the moments you are now seeing before your very eyes. Prophecies are being fulfilled right now! Joseph, you have been chosen to be the guardian of the Son of God! You will shepherd the good shepherd. You will watch over the baby who watches over the whole universe. You will protect the protector of all. How incredible and terrifying this must have been!
And so, in some cave in the rocks, surrounded by barnyard animals, in the very fullness of time, God entered into humanity. He became flesh and dwelt among us, as St. John wrote. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles! The baby was born for you and for me. His holy name is Jesus for He has indeed saved us from our sins. From the rough wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, our Lord made His journey. His Divine plan was to break all the human rules and to do the impossible. Jesus put on flesh for us. And, He willingly went to His cross for us too. The warm fuzzies of Christmas were traded for agony and suffering as our Lord shed His blood that we may have forgiveness for our sins. A glad Mother’s rejoicing of new life quickly turned to sorrow as she watched her grown up baby being crucified. And yet it was all in accordance with God’s time and planning, because the Savior rose again on the third day to bring life and immortality to light.
It’s simply the greatest news we could ever hope to hear! That little baby whose birth we celebrate this night has truly changed the world. God has done the unthinkable. He has betrayed all logic and reason, baffled science and theory. God has broken into our lost world of darkness and shone forth the glorious light of heaven. His Gospel of peace is spoken to each of us tonight. We have a Savior born for us, born to set us free from sin and the shackles of death. The amazing love of God is displayed and it is better than the most beautiful Christmas tree, more incredible than the perfect Christmas dinner. And, it truly is beyond words and description. The heart of Christmas is this miraculous mystery of God upsetting human plans and becoming one of us for our salvation!
This is what really makes Christmas so wonderful and perfect year after year after year. It’s not our preparations and planning – too often they get disrupted anyways. It’s not our meals and gifts and garland and bows. It’s not matching Christmas dresses – even though they are super cute! It’s that our Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit really and truly loves and care about you and me. That God sees our struggles and difficulties and He promises us His help, His life and His salvation. He promises us His presence with us all year through. And we, like the shepherds and wise men and Mary and Joseph simply gaze in wide eyed wonderment at this amazing thing God has done. Our plans, like those of Joseph and Mary, may have been turned upside down. Might have even got a little shaken up too. But nothing can change the amazing love and grace God has shown us in sending us the most perfect gift we could ever receive – Jesus the Savior, born for us, born to set us free. God truly is Emmanuel, with us now and ever more! Amen! Merry Christmas!