December 24, 2020
Rev. Jeff Wright
Luke 2:1-20In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 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.8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
DevotionIt is Christmas Eve. As we have traversed the path to Christmas once again, anticipation has been brewing as it always does. After all, Advent is a time of anticipatory waiting. Yet we say, Christmas will be different this year due to the pandemic. Many just want to make it through and eagerly await the dawn of a new year. But the turn of the calendar does not automatically solve all that is wrong in our world. I remember writing a poem for a creative writing contest when I was in the 9th grade entitled, “And They Call it a New Year.” Remembering back, it was a bit of a dark poem suggesting a lot of what happened in the past year will happen in the new year. Some issues such as racism, poverty, drug abuse, and homelessness are systemic. Hopefully, we can rid the world of the new issue of coronavirus. Hopefully, we will quit ignoring the issue of racism, address the reality of poverty, reduce homelessness as well as focus on the mental health crisis in our country. In many ways, all of these are be interrelated and the key word is hopefully.
That is a lot to hope for isn’t it? But are we not people of hope? Isn’t that what was born into our world on that silent night long ago? When the angels and animals huddled around that manger, when the shepherds heard the heralds of the angels and went to see, when Mary and Joseph witnessed that baby’s first whimper and cry, was not that the dawn of hope for the world?
For years, Israel had hoped and longed for the Messiah to come. For years, this birth had been predicted. And that innocent, simple, manger scene was the way God chose to move towards the humanity he had created to save them from themselves and offer the hope of eternal life. We had taken what God called good and twisted it for our own pleasure and still do. That is why we still deal with those issues I mentioned earlier. We pitted ourselves one against another. In truth, we pitted ourselves against God. And the aftermath is what we deal with now. The only problem is do we deal with it or ignore it. You see, God did not ignore it. God saw a people helpless and hopeless, caught up in themselves. God chose to bridge the gulf humanity had mined but could not cross on its own. Hope was born that night. God came to save us and be with us. It is that hope that reminds us we are not alone. It is the hope that reminds us we have not been forgotten.
Several years ago, a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child. She took the boy's name and room number and was given instructions by the teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I'd be grateful if you could help him with his homework, so he doesn't fall behind the others."
It was not until the visiting teacher got outside the boy's room that she realized it was in the hospital's burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain. She felt that she could not just turn and walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, "I'm the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs."
The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" Before she could finish the profusion of apologies that immediately came out of her mouth, the nurse interrupted her: "You don't understand. We've been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though suddenly he's decided to live."
The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears he expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"
The angels who appeared to the shepherds said, “Fear not for behold I bring you good news of great joy for to you is born this day, a savior….” What happened in that manger is the work of a God who still loves the world and the people he created, who still sees something worth redeeming, and who offers himself for that hope. I love to play golf, but I am not very good at it. Becoming good at golf requires muscle memory. You must repeatedly learn to swing the correct way. You teach your muscles to move in the right path. I believe hope is muscle memory. The more we believe it, the more real it becomes. The more we exercise it, the more we grow in hope.
When we look at the world around us, it is easy to become fearful and our hope wavier. We see all that divides us. We see the suffering, the hurt, the enmity, and the desperate situations and wonder how will it ever end? There is a verse from Proverbs which says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish….” I suggest where there is no hope the people perish. Vision of what could be does not come without hope. Our hope is not based on our circumstance. It is based on who God is and what God has said to us. Remember, at his birth, Jesus was lauded as Emmanuel, God with us. It is that presence that fuels our hope of what could be.
That is the hope born in Bethlehem. It is almost here but in many ways it is here. And the hope God offers us in the birth of Christ is not just a hope for a ticket to heaven. It is a hope for world we live in now. It is the hope there will come a time when divisions end, when enmity ceases, and when wars both internal and external stop. It is a hope that says despite what you are seeing and experiencing, there will come a time when all will be redeemed. We may not see it now but as people of hope, we are called to believe in it. We may not experience it now but as people of hope, we are called to work toward it.