Christmas! This is actually the reading at our church’s Christmas Eve service, but either way it works. Christmas marks the end of Advent and the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas. (The paraments should be white when we get to church tonight.) This is a time of feasting! All the preparation work you were doing in Advent? Relax and enjoy it. Here in the South it seems the tradition is to take your tree down before New Year’s, and I’ve always done that. This year, though, I think I’m going to leave a lot of decorations up until Epiphany, and I’m going to be intentional about celebrating Christmas for the whole twelve days. We have made plans to do fun Christmas-y things as a family next week. I’m looking forward to enjoying this time together.
We do have a couple of special days during this season. Today is the Nativity (birth) of Jesus, and then January 1 is Holy Name of Jesus day, celebrating Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, and finally Christmas ends with the visit of the Magi on Epiphany (January 5). The next day, a Sunday, marks the Holy Baptism of Jesus, so we have a lot to do in the next two weeks! Let’s get started.
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
This is the most familiar of readings, isn’t it? First, though, let’s put it in context. Earlier (today, in fact), our passage from Luke was the announcement to Mary of her pregnancy and Jesus’ birth. We left Mary with Elizabeth, both pregnant.
The second half of Luke Chapter 1 is the birth of John the Baptist.Recall that because of Zechariah’s doubt, his mouth was closed for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Elizabeth went on to deliver a healthy baby boy and, as was tradition, presented him for naming and circumcision on his eighth day. It was upon Zechariah’s written insistence to name the baby John that he regained his voice. Zechariah then speaks a beautiful hymn of praise. And then the stage is set for Jesus in Chapter 2.
See if you can listen to the story with fresh ears. One thing I noticed this time is how very much the Luke story focuses on Mary. Joseph gets a mention hear and there because he is Mary’s fiance, but he figures less in this Gospel than in Matthew.
I also notice the almost comical understatement of this story. For example, just read verse 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.
First, birth is not fun, and it takes a while, and it is exhausting and even at times scary. (And that is in a hospital with nurses and doctors and epidurals.) I can’t imagine poor young Mary, far from home, without her mother or even a midwife, giving birth. But Luke says, oh, you know, she gave birth. So easy.
And then there was nowhere to put the baby! Plenty of people, my parents among them, brought a baby home to a bottom drawer in a dresser for a few weeks. But a MANGER? This is a feeding trough. Mangers contain hay, typically. Have you ever been on a hay ride? Hay is pointy and scratchy and not fun. I’m sure that Mary and Joseph did the best they could but can you see how this is just NOT normal? This was a tough way to get started in the world.
And then, she did all this because there was no room. NO ROOM. No room for a poor young girl who was obviously about to give birth? Who does that? What do you think was going through poor Joseph’s mind?
The story breaks to the shepherds who see angels. They were TERRIFIED. Of course the angels gave their standard first line–“Don’t be afraid!” And then the angels deliver the most shocking, wonderful news to these rough and tumble shepherds. They are so excited they rush back to town to see this miracle. And poor Mary! Exhausted, in a cave with animals, a new baby, and in walk these dirty shepherds who are telling them the craziest story of angels and a Savior.
What does Mary do? First, she doesn’t shrink back, or ask them to leave, or even argue with them. She listened, along with Joseph, and then verse 19:
Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
One thing that is really sweet to me about this is that it truly feels like the reaction of an introspective, thoughtful teenage girl. She is holding all these things in her heart, turning them over, praying about them and wondering. The word Luke uses here for “ponder” also carries the sense of “contending with.” Mary was not a passive observer. She wrestled with and worked with all the things she was seeing and hearing, trying to fit it all together with what Gabriel had told her.
Old Testament: Isaiah 62:6-12
God breaks his silence in Chapter 62 (see the 3rd Advent lesson) and tells how he will save Jerusalem. The most important verse here to tie the OT reading to the Gospel is 11:
“See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”
Jesus is the salvation who has come into the world.
This is a wonderful hymn of praise, naming God as King and calling the entire earth–the actual earth, not merely the people–to be glad.
New Testament: Titus 3:4-7
This short letter was written by Paul around the same time as his letters to Timothy and is considered one of Paul’s “Pastoral Letters,” letters written especially to other pastors. Some parts of Paul’s pastoral letters get a little bossy and even moralistic. However, this sweet passage reminds us, yet again, that Jesus did not come to earth because of anything we did. He didn’t even come because of anything Mary did. He came because of His infinite mercy.
Our response should be to live like we know this! We were saved out of His goodness. We are reminded to live remembering that this was an unmerited gift. An unmerited gift who came to us in the most unusual and humble way. Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas!!
Finally, because I love it so much, Linus’ recitation of our Gospel: