Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The Holy Gospel according to Luke 2:1-20 Christmas EVE

2:1 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. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 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." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. The Gospel of the Lord.

"Journeying with Mary and Joseph"

"I can't believe it's Christmas Eve!" At least this has been my thought as I have prayed over what words to speak this evening. Maybe I am not alone in this sentiment . . . .

Christmas Eve has always been a time when last minute, hurried preparations have been our dominant reaction to this Most Special Night for our Families and in our Faith Journey.

So many gifts to wrap, last minute stocking stuffers to purchase, meals to prepare, clothing to be ironed and children to be fed and dressed before church!! So Many Family members and close friends to write to and extra favors or good deeds to be done on behalf of the poor. Christmas Eve comes quickly!!

No one knew this better than Mary and Joseph as they sought a place to stay on this night so long ago. Tonight we remember their journey and the One who would be Born . . . we settle into the special reality that this is a Hollowed Night, a Holy Evening and we want to linger here together and spend some time reflecting on the meaning of it all -- Jesus Christ is born of Mary in Bethlehem.

As we have heard in the lessons tonight . . . there is much meaning for us to grasp. The lesson from Titus is particularly instructive for us about our response to the Savior's birth, "the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all." Therefore, since we have been called into being the people under this Savior, we ought to live our lives as a reflection of God's grace and salvation at work in us -- we are called to be about Good Works in this life.

From Luke's Gospel, we take note that, "Out of the ordinary events of life, God's Overarching WILL has always been at work in history.

Thus, we hear that Emperor Caesar Augustus made a decree that "all the world should be registered." And because the Emperor made this mandate for all the people, Joseph and Mary are caught up in the historical drama, they must return to Bethlehem, the City of David . . . . where Mary will give birth to her firstborn Son, Jesus. And in introducing this information, Luke wants us to know that even the highest authority of the world, the Emperor, is ultimately under the control of God's plan. The ancient promise that "King David's house will be restored" is going to come to fulfillment as the reigning authority of the Roman Empire makes a decree . . . God is at work, the Christ Child will be born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah's prophecy, "But you O Bethlehem . . . who are one of the little clans of Judah" from you will come the Savior of All!

The Lesson tells us that God is at Work to bring the Savior into the world.

For Mary and Joseph, preparations for the birth of their Son began with the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We have always believed that a Donkey provided the means of transport for Mary while Joseph walked along beside her, perhaps more than once when the burro bobbed its head to get at a fly or stumbled on a stump, Joseph reached up to hold Mary in order that she would not fall off. Perhaps for the traveling couple, in spite of the hardship for Mary, there was an element of excitement for them in their journey.

Surely, there must have been many sights and sounds and scents that made them think of home back in Nazareth. Maybe when they stopped for water in a village, Joseph saw other men like himself, who were carpenters, building homes or carving various kinds of furniture out of wood the fresh smell of wood shavings would remind him of his "unfinished work" back in Nazareth, jobs that would have to wait until they returned home from this Census business. Perhaps Mary saw other women riding in caravans with much more elaborate gowns or blankets or other worldly goods that sparkled and shimmered compared with what she and Joseph could afford, but Mary did not allow these "tempting thoughts" to hinder her determination to remain open to what God was doing in her life . . . or in some divine plan that she did not yet fully understand.

In Mary and Joseph, and the yet unborn Christ as they journeyed to Bethlehem, we have pictured an image of faithfulness . . . in the family's determination, God has revealed concern for all who find themselves on unfamiliar roads and in unfamiliar places.

As they came nearer to Bethlehem, Mary knew that the time was near for her to give birth. Joseph must have been frantic with worry, "Where they would stay?" Can you sense the couples apprehension?? Can you identify with Mary's increasing knowledge at what her body is telling her?? The Baby is coming!!

Mary and Joseph and a Donkey . . . . Darkness approaches, no room can be found for them to stay. The means by which God accomplishes God's coming into the world makes little impression on an overburdened and overly busy world. And yet the Savior comes, an infant child is to be born.

And from this time forth, this child leaves an everlasting impression on us ALL . . .

Perhaps when they saw the flicker of an oil lamp placed in the window of a home, they hoped it would be a sign of welcome and hospitality. But not every light burning in the night bids a stranger welcome. Is it any different for a destitute couple traveling today?

The couple has journeyed some 50 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, only to discover that there is no place for them to lodge, let alone, no one to extend some compassion or caring. Not an adequate place for Mary to give birth to her firstborn Son.

The unfolding of God's plan of entrance into the world surprises us with danger as we consider the child . . . being born in a stable. We fear for Mary's well being, and the health of the child was it sanitary??

At this point, we have joined Mary in the aspect of her "pondering all these things in her heart" and we are awakening to the reality of Jesus' birth. No ambulance carried Mary to a Hospital, no doctor was at hand with expertise, not even the traditional mid-wife was available or at the ready. There was no abundance of hot water or towls. BUT . . .

There was a STABLE, a place where the animals were kept safe and close by someone's home. Perhaps there was clean straw, maybe some fresh water was nearby for Joseph to fetch and help Mary to clean the Baby Jesus, and to wash herself. We know there were strips of cloth that Jesus was wrapped with. Did Mary prepare these as they journeyed south from Nazareth? Did she purchase some special linens or spices for the Christ Child?

The story gives us permission to wonder: How did the animals behave when Mary cried out in the midst of her labor? Did they look up from chewing the cud? Does the cry of a human mother giving birth have a certain resonance with all creatures in God's creation who experience live birth? Did the livestock sense that the newborn baby boy was equally divine? Perhaps they stood and came toward the child with both curiosity and adoration.

This night we must give ourselves to contemplating these thoughts, because we want to understand the way in which our Lord, the King of all Creation, entered into the creation with such humility.

On This Night of Nights we remember the coming of the Holy One. He comes to bring God's Light into our lives and into the world. May we find our way by that light and may Christ so illumine our lives that we become guides to others leading them to safety and salvation, now and forevermore.


Read more writings of Pastor Jon