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God is with us.

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Delivered at Old St. Luke's midnight Christmas mass

Transcript and recording of the homily is under the picture.

In the name of One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. You may be seated.

Merry Christmas!

A weekend ago I traveled to Washington, D.C. for my Army Reserve unit’s annual military ball. After the ball and work on Sunday, I decided to go to the parish that I had attended and worked at throughout seminary. I was expecting their quiet evening service, a service that was without music and meant for quiet contemplation. When I arrived, I noticed something much different: kids were running around franticly dressed in costumes, the altar was adorned with a full-sized manger, and the pews were filled with young parents taking pictures and talking. I had unknowingly walked into their annual Christmas pageant, which was far from the quiet contemplation that I was expecting.


The evening proved to be beautiful, some of my friends from my time in seminary sat next to me, I had dinner with people I had been missing, and the kids that I had taught in Sunday school just the year before, did a wonderful job telling the story of the incarnation of our God.


The beginning of the pageant was introduced by the Children’s Ministry Director, who noted that the church tells this story every year because every year we hear something different. The children went on to tell the story in the Gospel passage that you just heard. During the song Silent Night, their prop donkey was heard loudly clanking across the uneven floor as they tried to make it through the doorway. During another hymn, an actual newborn began to cry. Children and toddlers were constantly moving up and down the church's aisles to find their place. This pageant that I witnessed was a masterpiece of beautiful and holy chaos.  


And what I thought about throughout the pageant, the thing that I heard differently when this same story was told to me again, was how entirely ordinary this telling of the incarnation was. Children laughing and playing, parents showing pride and joy in their offspring, and people celebrating, eating, and being human in the best way are all things that people experience throughout their lives.


And it was this experience of ordinariness that made me reflect on the plainness of the gospel text; how simple, how vulnerable, and unremarkable Luke tells us our God came to us. The act of the incarnation itself takes up just two sentences in all our readings:

Allow me to read it:

“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.”


The first Christmas was by Luke’s account, ordinary, lacking in grandiose, especially un-special, and yet completely remarkable and massively important. It wasn’t until the birth – this universe-altering act of incarnation - had already happened that all the grandiose came along: when shepherds and wise men answered the calls of angels, and the heavens proclaimed the significance of this birth that happened in the equivalent of a hotel maintenance shed.


So why? Why did our God come to us like this? Why did this act, manifesting our salvation, of such great importance and mystery, this act that theologians and philosophers spend their whole lives pondering and thinking about – so remarkably lacking in anything that we would expect for an event this important?


I propose to you that it was entirely intentional. The history of our God is a story of God constantly trying to draw near to humanity. Ever since humans fell to the power of sin in the Garden, God has reached towards us showing his desire to be in a relationship with us. This act of reaching towards us was the most drastic yet – to actually become one of us – to become ordinary; to show that the King of Heaven is not withdrawn to His thrown but rather succumbs to the natural order of his own creation – to the joys of humanity, to the times we laugh when one another, when we come together to eat and sing and dance and appreciate art and beauty; but also to the failures of humanity: the times when we war with one another, when we hurt the hearts of our friends, when we tear each other down, when we forget to love one another.


And our God didn’t shy away from the lowest social class, the hardest form of human existence, nor did he seek to show his glory through political power, social prestige, or vast amounts of money. His very existence challenges the things that we raise up as virtuous and valuable. Instead, God made himself known in the form of a child that needed to be nursed, a human that could be hurt like us, a baby boy who took a first breath and cried like us, who had instincts to want to be coddled and embraced by the touch of a mother like us. A human that could bleed, that could feel pain, that could suffer like us – all so that we would truly, really know who God is.


And because of this act, this birth that took place in a hotel maintenance shed, we no longer have to live in darkness. Truth can be known, love can be known, peace can be known, and God can be known. Even though theologians and philosophers spend their lives trying to understand the mystery of the incarnation, I want to propose that the fundamental truth of the incarnation can be known to everyone. That God is with us. He chose to be one of us, and he desires you to know his love for you. And this is the Good News – that God is with us in the very real and historical person of Jesus himself.


God does not want to be distant, and we know that because he left his throne in heaven to be with us, to enter our history and join in the human experience. God does not need our riches or our political power because he proved he can save us without it. The very act of coming as an ordinary man is in fact the most extraordinary thing to ever happen to the human race.


This ultimate act of drawing near to us may have looked simple. It may have been humble, devoid of grandiose, and even a little dirty and uncomfortable for the modern reader, but that was precisely the point. God knows the human experience because he came to us as a human.


And so we're left with what to do. If God knows us, if he showed us that he wants to be in a relationship with us, if he gave up his throne for a manger so that we would know him, what do we do? There is nothing but to draw near, to ponder these things in our hearts like Mary, to proclaim with the shepherds and the Angels:


"Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”


Because that is what God wants. God made himself ordinary so that we might be adopted as children of God and be made heirs of God's kingdom. We don’t need to live in darkness, or fear, or in a feeling like there can’t be peace, or justice, or love – because the very author of those things offers himself to us in a way that we get; in the way that we understand; in flesh and blood; in the ordinary. So draw near to God, as we celebrate him drawing near to us.


"Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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