Join us next Sunday at 11 a.m. for our annual Christmas program. We will have special music, a Christmas play, and even a special guest.
If you are anything like me, you have been watching a slew of movies about Christmas, many of them about people who were lost and lonely, but found love and meaning along with Christmas joy. While some of the story lines are tremendously stretched, they have a truth to them that begs to be heard this Christmas season.
In fact, when we read the Bible story we find that there, too, Christmas is about the least, the lacking, the poor, and the lonely. It is about humility and compassion and joy in the midst of dashed hopes and unrealized expectations.
As a young bride-to-be, I had plans for my wedding day. Excited about the plans and my new life, I spent hours making sure everything would be just perfect. It was wonderful, even though it wasn’t perfect. Mary, engaged to Joseph, was preparing for her new life, too, learning all the skills that would support her family, but God had a different plan.
A young girl in Nazareth, Mary was a simple girl who had no other claim but that she was a descendent of King David. Her family was not powerful. They were not wealthy, as far as we know. She was a simple girl from a simple town, being married to a simple tradesman. But God saw more in that young woman. God saw faith, and that made all the difference. A simple girl with dreams of marriage and family became the mother of our Savior. A common vessel became, through her faith and response to God’s call, a vessel of honor. The message of Christmas belongs to the least among us.
Joseph, as well, was descended from King David, but he had no pretense that he would be anything but a carpenter, as was his father. He would take his young bride to his home, and they would build a life together. Imagine his distress when his wife was found to be with child before the marriage ceremony. Engagement in Israel wasn’t just a ring and a plan, but a sealed contract. They were really already married, although it would not be consummated until the day of the ceremony. But that is another article!
Joseph was a man of humility and compassion. He had no way of knowing how or by whom Mary became pregnant. He only knew that he could not embarrass her and subject her to public ridicule. He chose to divorce her quietly and send her away, where no one would know what had happened. That is, until the angel appeared to Joseph, explaining his role in God’s plan for the world: his wife would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, a child who would save his people from their sins. What a fantastic tale! Who could believe such a thing as a virgin birth? Joseph did. He took Mary as his wife and her child as his son. The message of Christmas belongs to those who are hurting and confused.
It wasn’t long until Joseph and Mary made the trek to Bethlehem to register, according to the decree of Caesar. Bethlehem was a small town, but God foresaw its significance. Not only was King David, the greatest king of Israel born there, but the King of kings would be born there according to the prophet Micah. Unfortunately after the death of David, Bethlehem most likely lost its significance and was just another small town in Israel, probably a lot like small towns in Southwest Missouri. At one time they were busy and bustling, but time and commerce left them behind.
Thing is, no one realized what was happening in that small town. The people went about their daily lives, which had been upended by the influx of visitors because of Caesar’s decree. They were most likely busy and distracted, trying to get their regular work done while entertaining relatives from miles away. They couldn’t have known that the Messiah would be born there. They didn’t realize that the child for whom they had no place would be the child who would save them from their sins. And yet, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The message of Christmas belongs to the busy and the distracted.
There is nothing like spending time in the great outdoors. They shepherds lived on the hillsides outside of Bethlehem, tending to the flocks of sheep, guiding them to safe pasture, and protecting them from danger. Not a very glamorous profession, shepherding.
Shepherds were an important part of the commerce of the time, as the sheep they raised were most likely used for sacrifices in nearby Jerusalem. But they did not enjoy the esteem that others may have received. They lived outdoors, slept outdoors, and weren’t the best dressed of all the residents of the community. And the smell! When the shepherds came into town, it was obvious. And yet, it was to these ignoble workers that God sent the first announcement of the birth of the Christ. The message of Christmas belongs to the outcast and the unacceptable.
The least. The busy. The distracted. The hurting and confused. The outcasts. The unacceptable. The message of Christmas belongs to all of these. And before you assume that I am excluding you from this miraculous message, I’d like you to think about your own life.
The Bible says that we were going our own way, much too busy to see what God was doing in our lives or to realize how very much God loved us. We didn’t love God, but instead chose this world instead of God’s grace. We were hurting and confused, separated from God, and destined to remain so for eternity. But in our darkness, God sent His Son, a baby born in a small, seemingly forgotten town, to parents who were common people.
The message of Christmas belongs to those who are hurting, grieving, and confused. The message of Christmas belongs to the outcasts, the unacceptable, and the least among us. And yes, the message of Christmas belongs to you and to me.
And this is the message: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.
May you find the joy that comes with this message as you celebrate this Christmas season. God loves you. Pass it on.
Blessings, and Merry Christmas,
Pastor Mary Kay