December 20, 2020. Sermon Title: Christmas: A Story When God Surprised Us

First Mennonite Church

December 20, 2020

Christmas: A Story When God Surprised Us

Text: Luke 2: 1-20 (KJV)

There might be some truth when people say that you have not heard the true story of Christmas until you hear it from the King James Version. It is certainly true that there is a particular beauty, poetry if you will, in the way the story flows in that version of the Bible, but it could also be because many heard or read the story of Jesus’ birth for the first time from the KJV, where it begins, “And it came to pass in those days . . . .”

The birth story itself, as narrated by Matthew and Luke, is very brief. There is not much detail about much everything. Among many other things, we are not told much about Joseph’s post-dream reconciliation with Mary after he determined to abandon her quietly. There is silence regarding any possible involvement or assistance given to Mary by the family owning the place where Jesus was born. We are not told who spanked the baby’s bottoms to prompt his first breath and cry. These and many other details are not given, maybe, because in the end what mattered most was that a beautiful and robust baby was born in the midst of the most unlikely place for a birth. But, although the story is told so succinctly and in simple terms, it is filled with mystery and wonder.

It all began with the appearance of an angel, announcing to Mary the conception and birth of the holy child. We are told of Joseph’s hesitation to take Mary. We know of their forced visit to Bethlehem, which allowed prophecy to be fulfilled about the place the Messiah should come. Without much explanation we are told there was no place for Mary and Joseph in the inn, thus ending in a backyard stable. And that night, angels appeared to the shepherds, telling them that a Savior had been born. He was the long-awaited Messiah, but he was also the Lord.

In the Jewish context and especially coming from the mouth on angel that the child lying in a manger and who is wrapped in bands of cloth was the Lord was beyond unfathomable. “Lord,” replaced the unutterable Tetragrammaton (the four letters YHWH, the name of God) in the Jewish Bible. Although there are other names for God, such as Elohim, El Shaddai, Adonai, and El Elyon, the proper name of God was forbidden to be uttered by the Israelites. The name was so sacred that the Israelites could only refer to him by “THE LORD.” And it was The Lord who was wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger.  

The heart of the Christmas story is the message that the Lord, the majestic and eternal Creator God, entered the human story in the most unusual place, in the the most unusual form, as that of a baby, born to the most unassuming parents. Christmas is the reminder of God’s most drastic measure to tell us something about himself that otherwise we would not or could not understand. Christmas is the reminder of the mysteriousness of God. He made his appearance in the world in a really surprising and unexpected way.

And as the Gospels tell us, Jesus continued to surprise his contemporaries. His words were not only comforting to those thirsting for God, but were also piercing to those who rejected the purposes of God. His words not only declared truths about God, but also exposed the true conditions of the human heart. The group he selected to continue his work were of the least qualified and yet became the most successful in turning the world upside down. Many of those whom he attracted would have never made the cut to be deacons in our churches and yet he called them “blessed.” Even in his death, he surprised his enemies. He rose from the dead.

Therefore, if Christmas is the reminder of a God who shows up in the most unlike of places and to the most unsuspecting of people, where can we find him today? How and where can we hear his voice speaking to us, personally?

We should remember that, just as God did two thousand years ago, he will not appear in halls of power, either religious or political. He will appear to us, not only in the familiar faces we readily recognize the image of God, but even in the faces of those who walk about our streets, who carry all their belongings in one bag or a shopping cart. The other day, I read the note Catherine left to one of them. She had comforting and reassuring words for that lonely soul. Jesus reminds us, “Whatever you do to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” The face of God appears to us in the faces of stranger and in the unlikely places if we would only look for him.

Where do we get to hear the voice of God speaking to us? Certainly, not in the grand speeches of the powerful. Even, maybe, not always from the mouths of the preachers. But, is it not sometimes in a little phrase of a hymn that we hear God’s voice? Sometimes when I wake up in the morning there is just one line of a song that keeps ringing in my mind. “Thank you Lord for the strength you give me to love you every day more and more.”[1]  

Sometimes, we are reminded of God’s marvelous grace in the voices of young children. Their innocent questions, their malleable spirit, their complete trust and dependence become living illustration to our calling: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells us (Matthew 18:3).  

Christmas is a reminder of how mysterious our God is, showing up in the most unusual of all places—a backyard stable. Christmas is a reminder of how lowly our God can descend in order to see us eye to eye. The birth of Jesus is not only God’s clearest statement about his desire to make himself known to the world, but also that he wants to dwell in our heart. Christmas is the story of God taking human form, through his Son, in his utmost attempt to make us his children. Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] Gracias Cristo Bendito. Los Voceros de Cristo.