Christmas Eve 2017

December 26, 2017

The Christmas Story

Luke 2:1-20


1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15 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.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


We all have our favorite shows to watch during the Christmas Season. For a long time my favorite movie was It’s A Wonderful Life, and I still consider it to be one of the best movies ever. But the one movie that I have to see in order to know that Christmas has arrived is: A Christmas Story. And that’s the actual name of the movie – A Christmas Story. The story is told from the perspective of a young boy named Ralphie who is on a quest to get a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. It’s a daunting undertaking because his appeal is discouraged by all adults who tell him that it will put his eye out. TBS runs a 24 hour marathon of the show starting on Christmas Eve evening, and I always watch a few hours of the marathon. I’ve seen it so many times I can start watching it at any point and know what’s happened and what will happen.


It’s a great show. It’s set in post-war mid-America. Life was a little simpler then, but it’s not an overly romanticized version of life. The people in this movie aren’t particularly beautiful or clever or high minded – they are like people we know. They are like us. This is the really clever thing about this movie. It makes you feel like you could be in this movie – and you could just play yourself.


There’s no reference to Christianity in this movie. The story of the birth of Christ never comes up, but in a significant way A Christmas Story reminds me of The Christmas Story – the story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus and the shepherds. Because the main characters in The Christmas Story are also pretty average people. I’m not saying Mary and Joseph weren’t beautiful, clever, and high-minded. From what we know about them they were top-notch people, but they were probably pretty indistinguishable in a crowd. Of course there wasn’t anything average about Jesus, but Jesus isn’t the main actor in this story. He arrives, and that’s a glorious thing, but the focus of this story is on the people who surrounded Jesus.


The action of this story was driven by an unfortunate circumstance. This emperor Augustus had decreed that everybody had to go to their ancestral home to get counted. This was not what Mary and Joseph wanted to be doing at the time. They had to leave their home and travel at the very time that Mary was to give birth. This is the story of poor people getting jerked around by an emperor who was trying to figure out how he could extract more taxes. Mary and Joseph travelled because the consequences of being disobedient were worse than being displaced at a critical moment. The authority figure in The Christmas Story is more threatening than the various authority figures in A Christmas Story, but in both cases the drama is sort of driven by bullies and the immediacies of life.


Both of these stories ring true because much of the drama of the world we occupy is generally driven by low-minded edicts and requirements. Jesus wasn’t born in to a world that was organized around high-minded principles and righteous policies – he was born in to a world that was ruled by bullies and filled with trouble. Jesus was born in stable, and his first bed was an animal trough. We’ve sort of romanticized the story, but I don’t think that’s the circumstance any young couple would have chosen to be in.


Things aren’t so bad for the family in A Christmas Story, but they all have their struggles. Between the bullies, the neighbors dogs, household equipment failures, and familiar interpersonal tensions — life isn’t easy for anyone in Ralphie’s family. Unfortunate things happen, but they are overshadowed by unexpected moments of grace, and the movie always leaves my heart warmed by the mysterious power of love.


I don’t want to raise your expectations too high if you haven’t seen A Christmas Story, nor am I saying it’s the greatest movie I’ve ever seen – that would be Wonder Woman. But A Christmas Story is my go-to movie when I want to feel the joy of Christmas. It’s so plain, and it’s so wonderful.


That’s how I think of The Christmas Story – which is the story of the way that God used the plainest people to do the most wonderful thing. I particularly love the role the shepherds play in the story. It’s so interesting to me that the shepherds were the first to be told of the birth of Christ. If you don’t think God has a sense of humor you need to do some research on the standing of shepherds during time of Christ. These were men who weren’t allowed in the Temple because they were ritually unclean. One thing I recently read said that the word of a shepherd wasn’t admissible in court. They had the reputation of being chronic liars.


So think about this. The son of God was born to an unwed mother in a stable in a place where they were unknown. His first bed was an animal trough, and the first people who were told of his birth were men who were more familiar with the stars than they were of holy scripture. These men who weren’t allowed in the Temple were the first to be invited to see the baby Jesus, and they who weren’t trusted in a court of law were the first to proclaim the birth of the savior.


God does have a sense of humor, and God’s wit is designed to undermine those who think they are in charge. The Story of Christmas is the story of the way in which God has chosen to be with us, and it’s not in the way any of us would have expected. This is the way it was when Jesus was born, and this is the way it remains. God comes to us in the most unusual ways. Often the worst things that happen to us put us on the path to our greatest blessings. And the least likely people sometimes turn out to be the ones whom God has chosen to bear witness to the truth.


The Christmas Story didn’t just happen one time. The Christmas Story is what happens in our lives when the good news of God’s presence with us somehow breaks through the ugly ordinariness of life and we feel warmed once again by the mysterious power of God’s love in our lives. We are all participating in a Christmas story of some kind, and we all have a role to play. Hopefully we aren’t being the bullies who establish painful policies that cause the hardships that God has to find new ways to undermine, but God always finds a way to work around or to work with all of us.


Perhaps the most poignant detail of The Christmas Story is the place where Jesus was first laid. There in the manger – the place where the animals were fed. This may very well have been the way that God was telling us that Jesus had come to feed us all. Whether we know it or not, we are all being nourished by the love of Jesus Christ.


It’s best to know it and to truly celebrate the great gift that we were given when God chose to present The Christmas Story.


Thanks be to God.






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