by Elaine Maust
Matthew 1:18-25, 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-20
December 24, 2006
Quilts are placed on the steps and floor, center stage, for the children to sit on. The manger scene is placed on a low table in the center of the stage. All the advent candles are lit except the Christ candle. The altar table is moved in front of the pulpit. Children are invited to sit on the quilts during the sermon.
This is Christmas Eve. It’s such an exciting time. It’s one of the most exciting times of the year. It’s when we celebrate God coming to the world with presents and decorations and parties. Hooray for Christmas.
This morning, I want to tell you a story from the Bible. The story of Christmas. The story of when God was a baby. You know, the story of Jesus. Well, this is what the Bible says.
Long long ago, before you were born or your great-grandparents were born. Even before Jesus was born or his great-grandparents were born. God said, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14) Immanuel. God with us. God had been planning for hundreds of years to come and live with people. To love them first hand. To show them the way.
Now, if God wanted to live with people, God could have just walked into town, right? Just walked right up main street or 8th Street and said, “Hello, my name is God.” Or, think about this… God could have made a grand entrance, come riding in on a cloud or something. With some angel in the background announcing, “Ladies and Gentleman, children of all ages, I present to you, The Lord God Almighty.” Could have happened that way. But God had other plans. God’s plan, now maybe you won’t believe me, was to be born a little baby. Can you imagine God looking like baby Cameron or Samuel? But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
It started like this… (Luke 1:26-38) The story begins with a girl. (pick up figure of Mary) We don’t know exactly how old she was, but maybe 15. Like Whitney or Kelsey or Nohemi. She lived in Nazareth and her name was Mary. And she was engaged to a man named Joseph, a carpenter.
Well, one day Mary was going about her business. We don’t know where she was exactly, but we know what happened. There she was on any ordinary Friday or Monday or whatever it was, and there, right there with her, was an angel. The angel Gabriel to be exact. Sent from God.
“Greetings, favored one!” It was the angel talking. “Hello. God is with you. God has honored you.”
Now the Bible says that Mary was “much perplexed.” Yeah! Can you do much perplexed? She wondered, “Who is this and what did he just say?”
But the angel was talking again. “Don’t be afraid, Mary, because you are one of God’s favorites. You are going to have a baby boy and you will name him Jesus.” The angel said that Jesus would be the great Son of the Most High God. Like I told you. The God of the universe coming to live with people.
Well, Mary looked at that angel and said, “How in the world?”
And that angel said that she would be filled with the Holy Spirit and the power of God. That this baby would be the Son of God. And one more thing: “nothing is impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Here I am, God’s will be done. I belong to God.” And the angel left.
But we cannot forget about Joseph (Mt. 1:18-25). You remember Joseph, Mary’s fiancé? He’s part of the story too. (pick up figure of Joseph) This is what the Bible says about what happened for Joseph.
Joseph and Mary were engaged, but before they lived together, it became clear that Mary was pregnant. You remember that part, she was having the son of God by the power of God. Anyway, Joseph wasn’t too sure about all this and didn’t know what to do. He wanted to do the right thing. He didn’t want to humiliate her. So he decided they would break up quietly.
But just about the time he had decided to do this, he had a dream. He had a dream and in this dream an angel talked to him. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid.” Where have we heard that before? “Don’t be afraid to go ahead and get married. Mary’s baby is from God. She’s going to have a boy and you are to name him Jesus, because he’s going to save people.” Emmanuel. That was another name for the baby. “God with us.”
And when Joseph woke up he had the good sense to pay attention to his dream. He did exactly what the angel had said.
So far this whole “God becoming a person” thing is pretty low key if you ask me. No big announcements in the newspaper. No special investigative reporter covering the story for the evening news. Just a young couple who heard from angels, waiting for God to be born.
Then, about the time when the baby was ready to come, there was a census. (Luke 2:1-7) Everyone in the country had to be registered and counted. Joseph’s folks were from Bethlehem, so that’s where he and Mary went. To the little town of Bethlehem. I heard that it really was tiny. Maybe just a couple hundred people in the whole place.
And while they were staying in Bethlehem, Mary’s baby came. She had the baby, wrapped him in strips of cloth. That’s how they wrapped up new babies back then. And his bed was the trough, called a manger, that the animals ate out of. Likely a bed licked clean by sheep’s tongues.
The God of the universe with a tiny little mouth and new baby fingernails. A “God with us” who cried and cooed. God wrapped in a woman’s arms.
light Christ candle
But wait, there’s more… (Luke 2:8-20) Out in the countryside outside Bethlehem, there were some men watching sheep. See, they didn’t fence their animals in like we do on farms these days. The sheep just wandered around wherever they liked or wherever they were led and chased and someone had to watch them so they wouldn’t wander off. The men who had this job were called shepherds. (pick up shepherd)
Well, these shepherds were living out with their sheep and it was dark. Maybe a little bit like what it’s like if you’ve ever been camping. Anyway, there these guys were when all of a sudden there was an angel standing in front of them and God’s glory made that angel shine bright and the shepherds were terrified. Can you do terrified?
And the angel told them, “Don’t be afraid.” Wait, is this starting to sound familiar to you? But like I said, the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got great news, the best news, for everybody!” Wonder if you had good news of great joy for all people, wonder why you would tell it to shepherds?
“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
Pick up your heads, shepherds. God has come! And this is how you’ll know it’s true: “you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”
And then it was as if the heavens couldn’t contain themselves any longer. And suddenly there were angels everywhere. More angels than you could count. A multitude of the heavenly hosts. And they were praising God, “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him!” (the Message) Good news for shepherds. Good news for everyone. Ladies and Gentlemen, God has come!
And then they were gone back into heaven. Well. I imagine the shepherds kind of sucked in their breath and shook their heads. And the Bible says that they said to each other, “Let’s go! Let’s go to Bethlehem and see for ourselves this thing God told us about.”
So they hustled off and sure enough, just like the angels said. They found Mary and Joseph and a baby wrapped in the clothes. And the little God-baby was lying in the feed trough. Just like the angels said.
And when they saw all of this, they told everybody. That’s what the Bible says. First folks to spread the Good News were the guys who lived outside and chased sheep. And anybody who heard them was amazed. Can you do amazed?
Well, there’s lots more to the story, but I’m going to tell you just one little part more. (Mt. 2:1-12).
You see, when Jesus was born there was a strange phenomena in the sky. You could check with the shepherds on that. But there was also a star of some kind that kept on shining. Unusually bright. An extraordinary planet alignment.
Many miles away from Bethlehem in Persia, the part of the world we now know of as Iran and Iraq, someone noticed that star. Actually several people. They were astrologers. These Gentiles who we know as the Wise Men were good holy men, spiritual leaders of their people.
When they discovered this star, they started out looking for a new king. That’s what they believed the sign in the sky meant. They went on a journey to show respect to the new king who-ever-he-was. The trip they took was dangerous and very expensive as they crossed deserts looking for the king.
It was a few months, maybe even two years after the shepherds’ visit. Joseph and Mary and little Jesus must have found another place to live in Bethlehem after awhile. They were living like any normal poor family.
And this is how I imagine it… The Magi, decked out in their priestly robes, walk up the narrow streets with their necks craned over the little houses watching for the exact location of the star. Behind them their servants came lugging the gear for the trip of a lifetime. Up and down the streets they walked that night, the neighbors sticking their heads out the doors and windows and wondering what in the world is going on!!! And “have you ever in your life!” staring at the strangers. Do you suppose the wise men were surprised that the new king was poor?
At last they came to the house. They opened the doors. What did they expect to find? What they found was a young woman and a baby. And they bowed down and worshiped the little king. A baby like any baby. Sucking his thumb. Sitting on his mother’s lap. Swinging his little foot against her dress. A baby unlike any baby. The Son of God.
That part the wise men understood. They didn’t come to take pictures. They didn’t come to ask to be the secretary of state in the new administration. They didn’t come to set up a Barbara Walters interview with Mary. They came to worship. Can you do worship? To honor Jesus. To show him respect.
Well, like I said, there’s a lot more to the story of Jesus coming to live with people. But that’s how it started. That God would want to come and live with us. Would make a plan. Would do it! Now that’s worth having the biggest holiday ever over!
Emmanuel has come. Jesus has come to save us. Merry Christmas.