A sermon on Luke 2:1-20
This past spring the creator of Humans of New York traveled to Turkey to speak with Syrian refugees. To capture the most ordinary moments of life for refugees, in the aftermath of war, in the shadow of terror. I encourage you to check out these posts, I will post a link on the Calvary Facebook page. He wanted to share the lives of ordinary people just like us, who are faced with extraordinary challenges. Most moving for me was a series of posts from a young girl named Aya. Aya talked about school and her dog—named George—and what it was like to flee for her life first from Iraq then Syria into Turkey. This is as close as a glimpse to the lives of refugees that many of us will ever see, and in these moments, we learn extraordinary things about humanity. We learn that we are more similar than we are different, that refugees are our siblings instead of our adversaries, and that even the Son of God was a refugee.
What if Mary and Joseph’s time in Bethlehem had been captured by Humans of New York? Their story is more similar to one of Syrian refugees than residents of New York City. I imagine a picture of a woman nursing her newborn son, sitting amongst straw and animals. Saying, “I never really wanted it to happen here. I wish I could have stayed home in Nazareth. But it is census time, and we didn’t have a choice. We were told to go. I guess I hoped the birth would happen at home. But here we are. We are refugees in this place, waiting to be counted for tax purposes for the empire.”
Joseph is standing in awe, as new parents often are. He says, “He isn’t my child, you know. I had a lot of shame about this in the beginning. Mary came to me one day and said that she was pregnant by the Spirit of God. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it, until the angel told me. Then to think we had to travel all the way over here. Our lives really are not our own.”
Mary, holding the infant Jesus, “Meet Immanuel. His name means ‘God is with us.’”
Powerful words. Earth shattering words. The most ordinary human things are extraordinary when God shows up. What does it mean that God was born into this world to refugee parents in a strange land? To a pregnant unwed teenage mother? In a shed with animals?
It means God shows up in some pretty unlikely places.
In Luke’s Gospel account of the birth of Jesus, we hear about some angels making an appearance to shepherds keeping watch over their sheep in the fields at night. It was probably impossible to ignore an incandescent angel in a dark field at night, and we hear that the shepherds were terrified. The angel says, “Do not be afraid! Because—see—The Greek word for see in this text translates to “Behold!” or “Go see for yourselves!” (It is an imperative, compelling them to go see what the birth of this baby was all about.) I am bringing you news of great joy for ALL people.
It is significant that the angels would deliver this message to shepherds. Shepherds would not have been among the social elite of the day. They were likely to have been young boys, maybe 10 or 12 years old. They lived in the fields with their sheep, so they probably didn’t smell all that great, and they only had each other for company. They lived on the outskirts of town or in the wilderness with their sheep and had minimal contact with the “respectable” people.
By appearing to the shepherds, this multitude of angels would have made it clear that this good news is for EVERYONE. The angels didn’t appear in a shopkeeper’s home or to a priest or even the innkeeper. This is like angels appearing at the Cedar-Riverside interchange to those gathered there flying signs requesting spare change, instead of showing up inside a church.
The angels compel the shepherds to go “Check it out!” and explained how to find this new infant. After the angels disappeared, the shepherds turned to one another and said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this crazy new thing that has taken place, which the angels of the Lord told us about. So they practically run into town to see for themselves.
They meet the new parents and the infant Christ. They relay excitedly what had been told them by the angels. We hear that Mary “treasured” these words in her heart, because they confirmed what she knew already from her own experience with the angel.
But this not just good news for several millennia ago. Angels appearing to the least likely audience, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, and compelling them to “Go and See!” is something that echoes through the ages. God coming into the world as a human child is very good news and something to behold. This is the incarnation, the putting on of flesh, and it did not just happen once. God lives incarnate in every single human being.
What would it look like if we heard the message of the angels tonight for ourselves?
“Do not be afraid; for go and see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people: to you is born this day in the city of Minneapolis a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Christmas is the gift from God, of God’s very self, for all of us. That the world might know God’s love, in us and through us.
This good news compels us to share it!
Go see for yourselves where Jesus is to be seen!
Go reflect Christ’s love and light into all the places of the world that so desperately need it.
This is the good news of the incarnation.