First Mennonite Church
December 16, 2018
Advent: Joy, A Costly Gift
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Often times what we see is not always the real thing. Take for instance photographs of the rich and famous. By photoshopping photographs, not only blemishes or the original backgrounds and other undesired features in the picture can be removed, but also the main image can be redesigned to look better. In some way, that is exactly what has been done with the scene of Jesus’ birth story. This is obvious in most of the Nativity scenes we see. We have even photoshopped the reality of that night in the songs we sing about the birth story of Jesus. We sing “Silent night,” and the baby as “tender and mild,” who despite being rudely awakened by the loud cows, “no crying he makes.” We know that strong active moms give birth to robust babies who waste no time exercising their new lungs when they are born.
Why is a photoshopped Christmas scene preferred? Although we cannot envision the exact scene of the birth, yet I guess a photoshopped scene gives us some respite from the chaotic and already hard-enough life we all have. Most Nativity scenes look tidy, cozy, and ideal for an outdoor escapade. Likewise, no one can deny that there might be something therapeutic by simply looking at the contrast of colors and the beauty of a decorated Christmas tree. But we know there is something very profound about Christmas. There is not only healing, but life itself. And as we will see, that was the message given by the angels the night Jesus was born.
As for Joseph and Mary, they had come to terms with the immediate reality of their lives as newlyweds. Joseph had accepted the fact that Mary was pregnant and not by him, but by God’s intervention. However, they decided “to make do” with their situation; life continued marching on with the anticipation of having a child at home. But then, an imperial decree was issued. All men must go to the town of their ancestral origins. And normality, as difficult as it was, was once again shattered. Joseph and Mary were forced to embark on a journey; they were forced to comply with something that was in no manner signaling a better life, a life that was just starting—family life. Censuses in Joseph’s time had only two purposes: to identify tax payers and to collect taxes. And while away from home with whatever level of comfort it could afford them and away from the support of extended family, Luke takes time to describe the situation. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
We all know the saying, “when it rains, it pours.” That was precisely Joseph’s and Mary’s situation. They already had their personal troubles, when another trouble came, which was only aggravated by the birth of Jesus and the unavailability of a decent place to give birth. How can a situation like that be a “calm night?” But that was the reality of the first Christmas night we have photoshopped. Without it, (photoshopping) the first Christmas night would be the scariest night for any new parent. It would be a traumatic experience for a baby requiring years of therapy, according to our refined standards of wellness. But that was how our glorious Savior was born. That is how real life is for many around the world.
It would be very interesting to hear from everyone a situation of, “when it rains, it pours.” I know each of us has had such a situation. When you believe nothing else can go wrong, it simply does. And we are left with no other option than to deal with it however we can. Joseph and Mary found themselves scrambling to find a place to lodge in, while Mary was having contractions. (The story of Lilian walking to the hospital when Josue was born.) But Luke reserves until the end of that section of the story to inform us why Jesus had to be born in a stable and placed in a manger. Mary and Joseph could not find a guest room available for them.
While the holy family was going through this tempestuous hour and emergency, something else was taking place in the desolate fields, where only the lowest of the low of society were still busy. The shepherds were busy with their shifts between watching the flock and snoozing a bit. Then the sky erupted with light and angels appeared from nowhere. The poor shepherds trembled at the sight before them. But an angel eased their fear: “Do not be afraid,” He said. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The birth of Jesus, as humble as it was, as traumatic as it must have been for his parents, was nonetheless an event worthy to be announced by angels. The birth of Jesus, as displaced or misplaced as it happened, was the way God fulfilled his promise to the letter. It had to be in the house of David. Above all, the birth of Jesus was a message of joy to all because the Lord, the King and Savior, came in to the realm of humanity.
My dear friends, the coming of Jesus is a message of joy, not only because his birth was announced by angels, but because in his coming, he revealed to us the love of God. This love was not clearly visible in a defenseless infant lying in a manger, but through his example of grace and compassion he showed during his ministry. Jesus’ coming is a message of joy, because through life, death, resurrection, and promise of coming again we can celebrate today around the Table of the Lord.
Today as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we can rejoice in this privilege we are given. It is a blessing we are given that was born out of sacrifice. And it all started even before Jesus came as a baby. Mary committed herself to the risky and very inconvenient role of submitting to the will of God to be the mother of Jesus. Joseph accepted Mary despite the stigma that accompanied a newlywed husband to remain in a relationship where their firstborn is not his own child. And Jesus was born in the most humble place and into a humble family. He lived a life lifting up others and filling their lives with joy and new meaning. He gave his life to enrich others’ lives with joy unspeakable.
Communion is the way we remember and celebrate Christ Jesus, as the King who invites us to his table. Communion is a reminder of his life given for us. Communion is a call to each of us to give ourselves in service and love to others, bringing them joy even if it might be of some inconvenience to us. Joy is born out of sacrifice. Advent is a message of joy, not only because Jesus was born, but because throughout his whole life he brought hope and joy to many. Today, we are beneficiaries and recipients of that joy. Amen.
A week before Josue, our first child, was born, we moved to a new house. And the telephone service/number had not even been relocated to our new place. One Saturday morning, on February 7, Lilian began to show signs that the baby might come. We went to her doctor who said the baby would be coming that day in the evening. We went back home. It was around 6:30 PM when Lilian started having contractions. I wanted to go over to a telephone booth to call a taxi, but Lilian insisted she was going to walk over to the clinic. Men/husbands, you know how it goes. We usually do not say “no” to our wife and never to a pregnant wife. When she says something the only response we can give is, “Yes, Honey, whatever you say.” Lilian’s mom, Lilian, and I started to go to the clinic. It was about 8-10 blocks away. As we went, Lilian would tell us when to stop. When the contractions came, she would cling to my and her mom’s arms until the contraction eased and then we would continue. We made several stops before we arrived at the clinic. Once Lilian was carried in to the delivery room, I went to call my mom to let her know that Lilian was in the clinic. When I came back, one of the nurses told me, “Mr. Romero, You have a son.”