First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2-7
Second Lesson: Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 1-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this evening with a story from my childhood. When I was about 12 years old, the local radio station out of Forest Lake-WLKX was putting together a radio program on “Christmas traditions amongst Ethnic Swedes in America.” The program was supposed to re-air in Sweden on Christmas Eve. My Grandma, my sister and I were asked to be interviewed for this special.
My sister and I were on because we spent a few years as children participating in the Santa Lucia festival where we would hold candles and sing songs in Swedish to honor Saint Lucy (The patron saint of the blind). Santa Lucy’s cultural significance is Sweden due to their geography receives very little sunlight in the winter. Santa Lucia is a celebration of how the light will eventually overcome darkness.
So my sister and I talked about role in this festival. Grandma then got up to speak about her own Swedish heritage. Now for Grandma, the important thing was telling the radio people what they wanted to hear, even if it contains some slight exaggerations. So Grandma started talking about our family’s allegiance to Swedish traditions.
Grandma begins talking about our family Christmas celebrations. She said we only ate Swedish food. We did have some Swedish food such as Herring, Rice Pudding, Lefse, Meatballs, and Swedish Sausage generally on the menu along with other Swedish specialties such as “Salsa”. But where the story got stretched is when Grandma said we only spoke “Swedish” at Christmas. The problem with this is the only conversational Swedish that I ever heard growing up was a colorful way of saying “horse manure.” It would have been pretty hard to carry on a conversation with everyone knowing just this one word.
Then Grandma said after dinner; we celebrated Christmas by dancing around the Christmas tree singing Swedish Christmas Carols in the Town Square. My sister’s, Mom’s and my jaws were dropped at this point as Grandma told her tale.
The story doesn’t end at this interview, though. A few years later, my mom was paging through an issue of Bon Appetit when she came across an article on various towns across America’s Christmas traditions. One town written about in the story was Lindstrom, Minnesota where the people gather to sing Swedish Christmas Carols and dance around the tree. (I think I know where Good Housekeeping got that idea!)
Grandma had an ideal in her mind of the ideal Swedish Christmas and proceeded to tell about it. For Grandma, the reality of Christmas in Lindstrom wasn’t the way that she thought that Christmas should look.
Now let’s consider our evening Gospel lesson from Luke 2. Nothing in the Christmas story looked like it was supposed to. Today’s Gospel story centers around a girl probably no more of thirteen whose tale of a virgin birth hardly anyone believed. A father who people laughed at for believing Mary’s tale. As they give birth on this night, surrounding them are shepherds who would have been the first century equivalent of long distance truckers spending night after night away from home separated from family, just hoping to scrounge out a buck. If God was coming into the world, it certainly wasn’t supposed to look like this. The Son of God should be born surrounded by Herod’s court and adorned by only the most upstanding and holiest of men. We think we know how God should work until he chooses to work another way.
I imagine as Mary and Joseph set out on that Journey to Bethlehem, they were like many of us would be. They worried about how they might support this newborn child. They were scared and uncertain about what the days ahead might bring under Herod’s reign. I imagine that as they were forced to give birth in a manager that it would have been real easy to wonder how God was going to reveal his presence in a situation like this one.
Ed Markquart tells the following story: There was a young Norwegian soldier during World War II who had lost everything. His mother, his father, and his whole family had been killed. He had lost close friends during the war and the land around him was in shambles. Now here he sat alone on Christmas Eve alone feeling isolated from the whole world around him. There was no more crushing situation for a man to be. So the man walked outside to stare at the Norwegian Fjords and in his despair shouted out “Glory to God in the highest.” The Fjord echoed back highest, highest, highest.
The young man continued “And on Earth peace!” .And the Fjord echoed back “peace…peace…peace.” As the young man heard these things, the Voice of God seemed to be nothing more than an echo chamber from which no good answers could come.
The young man began to cry as he imagined the next chapter moving forward from that Christmas Eve. No different than Mary and Joseph could only merely go forth from Christmas night guided merely by God’s promises even as everything else seemed to be against them. What we need to take from Christmas is that often all that we have to go on is faith, but this doesn’t mean that our God won’t come through.
2016 was a significant year in the history of our land. When people remember, this year they might remember the loss of Muhammed Ali, Prince, Carol Brady and people within our lives both close and distant. The continual presence of death serves as a reminder in our world that something isn’t quite right.
A while back, I was gathering to watch a Vikings game with Father Steve from down the road at Saint Mary’s talking about the challenges facing our nation. What we agreed is that the longest standing belief in the Church is that of apocalypticism. The World is going to end soon especially if this happens has been proclaimed as long as there has been a Christian church!
Contrast this to the tale of Mary and Joseph on this night. What our tale of a Virgin Birth though reminds us of, on this night, is the World will only be saved or end on God’s terms rather than our own. Our God has a plan as little sense as it might make that involves a timid, young girl, her husband to be, some aimless drifters known as “shepherds” watching over the Bethlehem sky, and a child that they called Jesus for he was to save people from their sins. We might have a hard time believing this all. What the Christmas story reminds us is that new life can still be created in the midst of deepest darkness.
Let me close with a story told by Tim Zingale. There once was a young girl who ran away from home to get married. Her father objected to the marriage in no uncertain terms; he said if she went through with it that he would never forgive her or see her again. The girl wrote letter after letter to her father to explain her side. The father kept ignoring this correspondence. One day, the girl had a son. The boy began to grow in years and an idea is born the daughter’s mind. I will send my son to my father. The son would serve as a symbol of her love for her father and her desire for reconciliation.
Mother and Son drove to Grandpa’s house. The son had not been there before, but the house was just as mother remembered it. She told the boy to walk up to the door and give Grandpa a hug upon answering. The boy knocked on the door, Grandpa answered, the boy reached his arms around Grandpa’s neck. Grandpa’s heart changed in this instant. He saw his daughter and motioned for her to join them inside the house. Picture this story of reconciliation and now picture what happens on this night. God sent his Son into our world to make all our wrongs right. God sent his Son to bring new life in the midst of winter’s seeming perpetual darkness.
Grandma knew how a Swedish Christmas was supposed to look. Lots of singing around the greatest Christmas tree the people of Lindstrom had ever seen. Christmas though happens pretty much the same way every year regardless of how we think it should look.
A light shines way off in the darkness. The darkness of this world might appear to overwhelm this light. This light is still present. The light keeps shining even as in the case of the Norwegian soldier it appeared to flicker out.
Our message is this: no matter what brought you here on this night. This light was born into world on this night for you. This light will not leave you or forsake you even as all the forces around you might threaten to overwhelm you. This light brings hope to you when you look out into the world desperate to find it. Unto you, on this day has a Child been born. Amen
 Orginal sermon text had Good Housekeeping, my mom corrected my memory of this event.
 Luke 2:1-20.
 Markquart, Ed. “The Peace of Christ or Christmas”. Sermons from Seattle. Christmas Sermons. Web. Dec.20.2016.
 Markquart, Ed. “The Peace of Christ or Christmas”.
 Matthew 1:21
 Zingale, Tim. “Christmas Colors.” Sermon Writer.org. 2006. Web. Dec.20.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “Christmas Colors.”