Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
December 25, 2020 Worship Sermon
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20
I did my internship in a rural community outside of Albany, New York. It was a place where, at night, you could actually see the Milky Way pouring its way across the myriad stars of heaven. And sometimes, on a windless summer afternoon, the only sound you would hear would be that of a tractor cultivating a field in the distance.
There was no shortage of farm animals in this community, so the congregation that I served had a tradition of putting on a living nativity each Christmas. Out on the lawn in front of the church, the property committee would erect a wooden stable. And then the farmers would bring over the animals. There would be a cow and a donkey, some goats and sheep. The youth of the congregation would take on all the speaking roles: the shepherds, angels, wise men, and of course, Mary and Joseph. I don’t know if they ever used a living baby for Jesus. The year I was there, the role of Jesus was given to a life-sized baby doll. Joseph was played by 12-year-old Troy Antal and Mary was Lindsay Hotaling, who was about the same age.
Twice an evening, for three nights in a row, crowds would gather around the stable and watch the Christmas story that we all know so well come to life. With a recording of the First Noel playing in the background, the pastor would narrate the story as the characters came into the stable, first Mary and Joseph, then the angels and shepherds leading their sheep, and finally the wise men. Lindsay Hotaling was pretty convincing as Mary. I imagine she had spent enough time as a child playing with baby dolls that when she lifted the baby Jesus into her arms and nestled him close, you believed her. Troy Antal was a really good kid, but he brought into his role as Joseph the pimply awkwardness of early adolescence. You could tell he wasn’t terribly comfortable sitting in the limelight, and to make matters worse, he was wearing a pair of huge, black, Goretex mittens, the kind you might wear for an afternoon of snow-mobiling or skiing. It was pretty cold that December in Upstate New York, so nobody could blame him for protecting his hands from frost-bite, but the anachronism of those skiing gloves was just enough remind us that we were not gathered around a stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. This was Valatie, New York; and the two youngsters hovering over the manger were kids from our confirmation class.
In retrospect, those ski gloves were a really nice inclusion to the living nativity scene. They reminded us that the true miracle of Christ’s birth is not what happened 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. The true miracle of Christmas is what happens as Christ is born in us. Whether we are an awkward adolescent or an arthritic ninety-year-old, God becomes human in us and among us. The home where you are sitting is the stable in which Christ is born. We are the shepherds, the angels, and the wise men gathering into this stable to witness the miracle.
Our scripture readings for Christmas morning all talk about seeing God’s salvation. All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God, Isaiah tells us. And in the Gospel of John we hear: The Word became flesh and dwell among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
Isaiah and John are so confident that God’s salvation is something that we can see. But if you are not sure that you have seen it, I invite you to do this: lift your hands in front of your eyes. Those hands that you are looking at make visible the salvation of God. Not only did God create them, which is amazing in itself. God became flesh, that flesh that you see right in front of you. As you hear the life-giving Word of God and incorporate it into your being, Jesus takes flesh in you. That is certainly something to celebrate on this Christmas morning.