First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2-7
Second Lesson: Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 1-20
Grace and Peace from Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In the last nine months, everything in Mary and Joseph’s life had changed. First of all, Mary, a young girl of no more than fourteen, learns from the angel Gabriel that she will bear a child that she is to name “Jesus.” As soon as Joseph heard this news, he didn’t believe it to be so for Joseph thought Mary’s claims of virginity were nothing more than lies or excuses. Joseph took this news of a birth as an unpleasant shock. Joseph’s original wish was to divorce Mary. Joseph only ceases his initial plan once an angel appears to him in a dream.
Now Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a mere 90 miles away from Nazareth where they lived. The trip was not going to be an easy journey. Whereas typical travelers could go 20 miles a day, this trip was going to be difficult 90 miles going uphill and downhill probably taking twice as long as average. The journey would take them along the flatlands of the Jordan River, into the woods where they dreaded encountering lions, bears, and boars. Even major roads ran the threat of encountering bandits and robbers. For Mary and Joseph, this was not going to be a safe nor comfortable journey to Bethlehem.
There is no good reason that a pregnant Mary would want to travel to Bethlehem. In fact, they probably dreaded the journey. Mary and Joseph had no choice in the matter. The Roman government was forcing everyone to go back to their “official residence” to be counted. The Romans did this as a means of forcing every maximum dollar of tax revenue while also making sure that they had no shortage of troops on hand for the next battle. The Romans counted everything they could from the trees in the grove to the number of cattle owned. Here were Mary and Joseph being forced to travel to pay for the right to be oppressed by the most unfriendly of governments. The announcement of the Roman Census would have been taken as anything but good news! Think of the feeling of the Doctor calling you into his office with the need to talk. The census would have seemed to have been the definition of an event out of which no good could come. The census would serve as a reminder of a conquered people seemingly powerless to change their surroundings. Mary and Joseph’s life had flipped in the past nine months and had no clue what the next nine months might bring.
Christmas 2015 is a time of uncertainty for many within our community. Due to a crisis within the U.S. Mining industry, many do not know where or if paychecks might come some months from now. We face uncertain times as a community as we can easily say that the downside is much higher than the upside. This uncertainty lies over all of us.
Uncertainty was what faced Mary and Joseph on this night. The night of Jesus’ birth was not going to be an easy night. The night was anything but warm or comfortable. Here was Joseph forced to take his pregnant wife to a cave to give birth on a ground surrounded by smelly, farm animals. The night stood in sharp contrast to a Christmas Eve with nice clothes and pleasant aromas. The night was desperate people being suffocated to misery by the census of an oppressive government. There was little that one could say was good about a day such as this one. The truth is Mary and Joseph’s story of trying to find purpose in the midst of turmoil is more like ours then we might imagine.
I want to tell you a story today of one of the most miserable days of my life on January 17th, 1999. The day began in Minneapolis watching the Vikings play the Atlanta Falcons with a trip to go to the Super Bowl on the line. Any Vikings fan knows this story all too well, Gary Anderson misses the kick, the Vikings lost the game in the overtime.
I’ve walked out of wakes louder then walking out of the Metrodome with 60,000 plus people on that day.
I then began the 3 ½ hour drive up I-94 to Moorhead where I went to college. Things looked pretty good until Alexandria when the snow started to fall. Snow kept falling and falling. I still had miles and miles to go. Visibility kept getting worse and worse. Nowadays I would have pulled over and gotten a motel room at the first sign of unpleasant weather. Back then, as a college kid with no money I kept driving. Pretty soon, I had no ability to see the road that lied ahead of me. All I could hope for was to see other cars along the road to guide me. I figured all I could do was follow lights.
What is the meaning of Christmas, as I ponder this night? I think of the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem guided by nothing by light. I think of the famous words from the Gospel of John reflecting on Jesus birth that proclaim “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Somehow I made it to Moorhead that night almost as if I was being guided whose presence that I could not see. My Dad had trained me to drive a few years prior, but nothing could prepare you for driving on a day such as this. How do we respond to the unexpected of life as we ponder the birth of our Savior on this night. There’s something interesting about the birth of Jesus.
Jesus’ birth reminds us how God works in some of the most unexpected ways imaginable. Jesus was born in a manger because the inns in Bethlehem were full because of a census. Mary and Joseph were so low on the social totem pole they ended up out there in spite of the size of Mary’s belly. At the manger that night were shepherds. Shepherds were basically the first century equivalent of transients or bums. The whole story centers around an unwed mother. Our story centers around the types of people seemingly shunned by the religious folk and even God himself.
Pro Wrestling Legend Dusty Rhodes when one time describing the ups and downs of his life declared “I have wined and dined with kings and queens and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.” Here was God coming into the world surrounded by the alley-dwelling pork and beans crowd.
I think one of the most valuable lessons of our Christmas story is that confronts the innate human belief that only greatness shall win out in the end.
Social Worker Brene Brown comments, “When I look at narcissism…I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
Christmas reminds us that God indeed dwells within the ordinary.
The truth of Christmas is children might not become great students, superstar hockey players, or famous actors; teachers might not win awards, marriages or any human relationship will not inevitability be the things of fairy tales.
God still comes in the midst of this at Christmas to bring us hope. God does not dwell with the rich and powerful but rather God lives with the homeless shepherds, unwed mothers, laid-off miners, elderly widows, and in the midst of a crowd of ordinary, broken-down Christian people.
We will not leave tonight with our fears completely resolved. Christmas is not a magic pill. We will leave this place fearing the status of our relationships, our finances, and possibly even our health. The crowd that gathers one year from now might look very different than it does tonight. Be reminded that in the midst of our struggles, God will not abandon us.
Nine months can change everything. Nine months can bring financial windfall or financial ruin. Nine months can bring the love of your life or see that person leave never to return. Nine months can bring healing or it can bring death. Nine months can bring birth. Nine months can bring hope. Nine months can bring grace. Nine months can bring salvation. Nine months can bring light in the midst of darkness. Nine months can bring a child born in a manager. Amen
 Matthew 1:19
 Religion News Services. “A Long, Cold Road to Bethlehem: Nativity: Gospel Accounts of Mary and Joseph’s journey gloss over the arduous reality of life and travel in ancient Galilee”. Los Angeles Times. 23. Dec.1995.Web. Dec.21.2015.
 Nelson Larned, Joseph. The New Larned History for Ready Reference: Volume 2. 1924. Google Books. Dec.24.2015.
 Matthew 2:1-12.
 John 1:5.
 The following Brown quote is from Daring Greatly.