The Birth of JesusLuke 2:1-7 (NRSV)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Today we lit the candle of love, and we placed the baby in the manger. But this is not the only week that we talk about love here in Oldtown. Each and every week that we gather, we talk about the love of God, the unconditional love of God that is. To be honest, I sometimes feel like a broken record, repeating the same thing over and over again. My friends, it’s all about the unconditional love and grace of God. Folks, it’s all about the unconditional love and grace of God. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it’s all about the unconditional love and grace of God.
But even though I say it week after week, I know that there are still people in this very congregation that don’t hear it because we still think that we need to prove ourselves to God. We still wonder if we are “good enough” for God, and we feel guilty when we think we have fallen short and disappointed God because we still think in our heart of hearts that we need to earn God’s love.
Friends, believe it or not, we still think that through our actions, through the things that we say and do, if we try really hard, we can be “good enough” and God will love us. Do you ever feel that way? “If I go to church, God will love me.” “If I try really hard to be nice to my neighbor, God will love me.” “If I say the right things and live my life in the right way, I know that God will love me.”
Now don’t get me wrong: loving your neighbor and serving others is a great way to live. Attending church on Sundays, or watching Oldtown Shorts online, is a wonderful way to feed and nourish your soul and to inspire yourself for the coming week, and making good choices and living out your faith is an awesome way to fill your life with joy as you work to make the world a better place. But the truth is, none of those things make God love you. Because as we said earlier, God’s love is not conditional on what we say and do. God does NOT only love us if we are good. No, God loves us unconditionally, no matter what we say or do.
Now let me clarify: God may not love our actions or the things that we say and do, but God never stops loving US no matter what! Now I am certainly not saying that you should go out and treat people poorly and make bad decisions because God is going to love you anyway. I’m not telling you that the things that you do and say don’t matter because they absolutely do! But what I am trying to say is that the God that created you loves you and will never, ever let you go, no matter what you say and do, because God’s love is unconditional, meaning that it comes not because of who we are and what we say and do but because of who God is.
Friends, on that first Christmas so long ago, in a little town called Bethlehem, a baby was born, and through that birth, God chose to come to us, to our broken and hurting world, to teach us and to show us unconditional love that this world had never experienced.
Friends, when God chose to come to us, to walk the earth in flesh and blood just like us, God came not only to a chosen few, but God came to love ALL! And through the Christmas story when God became flesh and walked among us, we ALL became a part of God’s story because God didn’t choose a perfect place. God chose a stable. God didn’t choose perfect people. God chose Joseph, a simple carpenter, and Mary, an ordinary girl. And who did God choose to tell about all that happened? Shepherds, lowly farmhands, outcasts from society who lived out in the field tending sheep. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think God must have quite a sense of humor.
But through this Christmas story, God wanted the whole world to know that everyone matters: not just the rich and the well to do, not just the people who think they have it all together, not just the people who claim to follow a certain religion, not just the leaders and teachers and wise ones but to EVERYONE!
When I was young, I grew up right here in Oldtown. I attended Sunday school here and worshipped with my family here. I was baptized here and confirmed here and married here. I was even ordained into the ministry, right here. I have experienced a lot in this church: times of prayer and times of worship, times of study, and times of mission outreach, but I have never felt more loved and more included than when I was a child.
You see, the minister used to have a story that he included all of the children in. Now it wasn’t a story about Jesus, or God, or even the Bible. It was a story that he told every year at our Sunday School Christmas party just before Santa would arrive. During the story, he would call each of us up to play a part in it. That experience taught me that I mattered and that I was loved. And to this very day, when I think of unconditional love, I think of being a part of that Christmas story. I didn’t need a special talent or a good report card. I didn’t need to know how to tie my shoes or have perfect Sunday school attendance because the story included me just the way I was. I could be the North Pole, or a snowflake, or the north wind, or a reindeer, or an elf, or anything else in the story. I was included, and I mattered just the way I was.
Friends, this Christmas, I want you to know that you matter. You matter to God, and you matter to me. I also want you to know that YOU hold an important part in the Christmas story. Now don’t worry; you don’t need to wear a costume or memorize any lines. You don’t need to come to the church building or sing any Christmas carols. All you need to do is be yourself because on that first Christmas, in that little town of Bethlehem, a baby was born, Emmanuel, meaning God with US. And that little word us, those two little letters “U-S,” they don’t stand for “United States.” They don’t mean us as Christians, or us as the worthy and deserving ones. It doesn’t mean the people dressed in their Sunday morning best, sitting in the pews of churches all around the world. US means ALL OF US!
It means me and you and everyone else on this planet. No matter your faith or your lack thereof. No matter or your culture, or your background, or your family history. No matter your skin color, your gender, your sexual orientation, or your age. No matter your education, your income, your opinions, or your preferences. If you’re living and breathing, then you’re part of US. Because as a human being, YOU were created in the image of God, and as a child of God, you are part of the Christmas story. Because Emmanuel, God with us includes you! And that means that God loves YOU, whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey. And friends, whether you like it or not, there is nothing that you can do about it!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!