Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
There are times of the year when our focus is naturally drawn to the Gospel – Easter and Christmas are two such times. The birth, life and teachings, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ are such powerful testimonies of God’s love for us that we are drawn to hear these stories over and over again.
Why do you think this is? Is it all about tradition, or is there something more? The word gospel means good news, and I think we all long to hear good news. We live in a world filled with darkness and good news is like a light which shines in the darkness to help us find our way. Listen to what Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
Having lived in a land of deep darkness at one time or another in each of our lives, we know we need to turn toward the light to find our way out of whatever mess we may find ourselves in. The gospel story is this light for us. It tells us that God loves us with such intensity that God will do anything for us. In the language of the church, we say that God began incarnate in Jesus; this simply means that God enters into our world of flesh and bones, of sickness and health, of pain and suffering, of joy and gladness through the birth of Jesus. Our very existence is of divine origin, and the birth of Jesus makes our lives holy – it sanctifies our human existance.
When we find ourselves living in the darkness, we may not feel we are of a divine origin, create in God’s image, and we may not feel like our lives are holy. We may, instead, see ourselves as sinful and unworthy of love. We may turn our backs on God and sin, but the birth of Jesus reminds us that God never gives up on us. God enters into our world in the flesh, and Jesus comes to us, wherever we are, to bring us back. The light Isaiah is speaking of is the light of Christ that shines upon us.
The gospel lessons, like the one from Luke, are stories that defy logic and challenge our rational minds. There is the angel who appears to the shepherds. They are frightened – and I would be too. The angel tells the shepherds that the messiah, their savior, has been born. The angel tells them where to find the Christ child. Then, there is a multitude of heavenly hosts suddenly appear praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
The angel says, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” A sign. The birth of Jesus is a sign for us. It is a sign of God’s love for us. For some, it is more difficult to believe God could love us than to believe the story about the angels, the heavenly hosts, and Jesus’ birth. Whether we believe or want to believe all that the gospel says happened that night, is less important that knowing that God loves us.
Many of us here may be seeking to know this, to know that we are love by God – not because of anything we did, but because we are one of God’s children. No matter how insignificant we might feel, we matter to God, our creator.
I will never forget hiking through a Sequoyah forest, when the path led me out of the trees onto a bluff that overlooked the ocean. I was dwarfed by the trees and made to feel even smaller and more insignificant when I saw the vastness of the ocean. I could not see a single boat or anything that would suggest human life within the view of the bluff, and the ocean before me faded into the horizon. It was a moment when I knew the world doesn’t revolve around me. I was thankful and I was in awe of creation. It was an experience that made me all the more grateful for the story we heard in the gospel of Luke.
“Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people,” the angel says to the shepherds, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Shepherds might just have been the least significant people on earth in that day – unless, of course, you were a sheep. Nonetheless, it is to them that the angel appears – not to those who have the power and authority over the people, not the religious leaders, priests or rabis. No, the angel appears to the shepherds.
This tells us that God cares about each of us, no matter how insignificant we might consider ourselves. We matter to God – this is good news of great joy for the people! Jesus is born because God loves us and wants to be a part of our lives.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give thanks for coming to seeking a relationship with we turned our backs on you. Thank you wanting to be a part of our lives. Help us, we pray, to see the love of Christ in those who know you. Shine your light upon us, that we might find our way to you. Then help us, reflect your love and light that others might find their way back to you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.