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. Every week here in Oldtown, we talk about the unconditional love of God. To be honest, I sometimes feel like a broken record repeating the same thing over and over again. But, my friends, it’s all about the unconditional love and grace of God. 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 who don’t hear it. 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. 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, that we can be good enough and then 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.”
Don’t get me wrong; loving your neighbor and serving others is a great way to live. Attending church on Sundays is a wonderful way to feed and nourish your soul and to inspire yourself for the coming week. 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 makes God love you because, as we said earlier, God’s love is not conditional on what we say and what we do. God doesn’t only love us if we are good. No, God loves us unconditionally, no matter what we say or do.
Now I am in no way 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 who 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 the 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. Through the Christmas story when God became flesh and walked among us, we all became a part of Gods story, as well.
And did you notice, God didn’t choose the perfect place; God chose a stable. God didn’t choose perfect people; God chose Joseph, a simple man of trade, 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.
As we all know, God has quite a sense of humor sometimes. But through the 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 leaders and teachers and the wise ones, but 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, and even ordained into the ministry, right here. I have experienced a lot in this church—times of prayer and times of worship, times of celebration and times of sadness, times of study and times of mission outreach. But I have never felt as loved and as included as when I was a little girl. You see, the minister that was here when I was young used to have a story that he told near Christmastime that included all of the children. 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. And that simple 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, or anything else I wanted to be. And I was included, and I mattered just the way I was.
Friends, today we are going to tell the Christmas story as we have in the past, by having a stress-free, imperfect, impromptu Christmas Pageant. The idea is this: whoever you feel called to be in the story, that’s who I want you to be. There is no competition for parts, and there are no speaking parts. All you need to do is come forward to take your place in the story when you hear your part. And if coming forward is too difficult or uncomfortable for you, just raise your hand when we get to your part, and we will gladly bring you your prop.
Remember, this is not a pageant about perfection. It’s an experience meant to remind us that God came to ALL OF US!! Not just a chosen few. That we matter and we are loved, and that we are ALL a part of the story no matter who we are or where we’ve been or where we are on life’s journey. So, there is no right or wrong way. We could have one Mary or seven Marys. The number doesn’t matter. I simply want you all to have the chance to be a part of this amazing story. My friends, as the angels said to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, “Do not be afraid!”
(Read along with the production and script of the Impromptu Christmas pageant here:
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead to celebrate with family and friends, I urge you to remember that Christmas is NOT about perfection. It’s not about finding the perfect gifts and throwing the perfect party. Instead, it’s about sharing HOPE, and PEACE, and JOY, and LOVE with the world, with your family and most importantly, with yourself, not because things are perfect, but because in the midst of our broken and mixed-up world, God has given ALL OF US the greatest gift of all: the gift of Jesus. So, as we go out into the world, let us be like the angels, as we sing out with joy. Let us be like the shepherds, who went out to share the good news with the world. And let us be like Mary, who treasured all the things that she had seen and experienced and heard, and pondered them all in her heart.
My friends, blessings to you and yours this Christmas. May you always know that you are a beloved child of God and an important part of God’s story. And may you be filled to overflowing with the sacred awe that this season brings.
May it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!