Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 24, 2022 – Christmas Eve
[sermon begins after two long-ish Bible readings]
Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15When 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.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.]
2The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
“They look like themselves,” Mom said, when I asked her who a newly born cousin looked like. She would say, every time, that they looked like themselves. When my own kids were born, I asked Mom who she thought they looked like – Rob or me or both – and she said that they looked like themselves. I don’t know where she came up with this phrase, but I like to think it’s because my siblings and I are a mix of biological and adopted children. Rather than complicate the question with a complicated answer, she found a simple way to answer it and moved on. I was recently telling a friend about my mom’s way of describing babies and she had a story of her own. When her first baby was born, she said to the nurse, “He doesn’t look like anyone I’ve ever seen before.” The nurse replied, “Because you haven’t.” What my mother and my friend were both saying is that each baby is their own story waiting to happen as part of the larger story of their family.
Jesus’ family extended beyond biology, as my family does with adoption, and perhaps your family does too in different ways. Joseph, the adoptive father, ultimately welcomes the sweet baby Jesus as his own (keeping us guessing for a tense moment), after Mary consented to God’s wild plan. The new parents kissed the face of Jesus, kissing the face of God, looking like no one they’d ever seen before, looking like himself – beyond biology yet oh-so-human. A Christmas kiss for the ages, no mistletoe in sight.
In the meantime, the angel sent the shepherds to look for the sign of God’s promise. “This will be a sign for you,” the angel said, “you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” A sign unto himself. That’s Jesus for you – looking like himself. The shepherds, frozen by fear in front of the angel, quickly launched into action as their fear thawed. Who knows what they were expecting during their hasty run from the field to the manger side. I picture them turning up at the manger sweaty and out of breath. Words tumbling out as they talk over each other to tell the story about the angel in the field, and Mary and Joseph looking at the shepherds, the baby, and each other with wide amazed eyes, wondering what in heaven’s name is going on. I wonder what the shepherds were expecting after their foot race. They could have looked at the baby Jesus and thought, “Huh, just a baby, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.” Whatever they thought they saw, they returned to the fields around Bethlehem, praising God for the good news that they had seen and heard.
Our world focuses on bad news much of the time. Bad news makes money for the bad news sellers while making everyone else afraid. The Christmas story hints at bad news with the registration ordered by Caesar Augustus. The census registration was the reason that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem. In the first century, censuses were taken for money reasons – so that the people could be taxed, and for military reasons – so that people could be conscripted into the Roman armies. The census was serious business taken seriously by Rome. The presence of Roman soldiers would not have been a surprise. The census was NOT a party. The census was the power and strength of Caesar casting a wide net. But the census is a placeholder in the story, almost as if it was the least interesting part.
We’re reminded that the real action happened outside the seat of power. The good news was announced in a field under angel-light, to shepherds focused on sheep birthing their lambs, the power of nature mid-wifed through their hands. The shepherds ran from the birthing fields to see a newborn in a manger who would one day be called THE Good Shepherd. The baby Jesus wrapped in bands of cloth when he was born echoing the crucified Jesus wrapped in linen cloth when he died. The bands of cloth around the baby tease our memory with the rest of the story yet to come, the story of Jesus who risked everything to expand the circle of God’s love around even the most unlovable people in the eyes of the world. Christmas is just that risky and counter cultural.
The angel says, “Do not be afraid, for see, I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” From baby to bearded Jesus, the mystery of the good news unfolded through his adulthood right on through the next 2,022 years. The good news is that Jesus is born of God and of Mary. He is a shepherd leader who looks like himself. Looking like himself is good news for us who show up looking like ourselves, with our own reasons for being here, with our own stories to tell including the burdens camouflaged by Christmas cheer.
Maybe Jesus looks like the Good Shepherd who redirects your path.
Or maybe Jesus looks like the Wonderful Counselor who calms your troubled mind.
Or maybe Jesus looks like the Prince of Peace who calms a troubled world.
Maybe Jesus looks like a prophet who challenges power and the status quo, liberates the oppressed and fills the hungry with good things.
Maybe Jesus looks like the One suffering on a cross, reassuring you that God suffers with you in pain and despair.
Or maybe Jesus looks like the Savior who promises that you are never the worst thing you have done and calls you beloved.
Maybe Jesus looks like the Easter Jesus, shining and shimmering with life eternal, sharing your moment of joy as you shout “Hallelujah.”
Or perhaps he’s that other Easter Jesus who holds your fragile moment of faith and doubt, reassuring you that there is nothing you can do or not do to make God love you any more or any less.
With that long Christmas list, it’s a good thing that Jesus looks like himself, arriving in God’s time as the face of God’s love. The good news is that regardless of what you see in Jesus’ face, the fullness of Jesus is present with you because of God’s love for the world and, by extension, God’s love for you. Merry Christmas and amen.
 Pastor Barbara Berry Bailey, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Denver. Discussion about Luke 2:1-20 at Metro East Preacher’s Text Study on December 21, 2022.
 I love the way Dr. Amanda Brobst-Renaud makes this point in her commentary on Luke 2:1-20 for WorkingPreacher.org https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christmas-eve-nativity-of-our-lord/commentary-on-luke-21-14-15-20-16
 Stephen Hultgren, Lecturer of New Testament and Director of ALITE, Australian Lutheran College, North Adelaide, Australia. Commentary on Luke 2:1-20 for WorkingPreacher.org https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christmas-eve-nativity-of-our-lord/commentary-on-luke-21-14-15-20-13
 Berry Bailey, ibid.
 Luke 1:46b-55 – Mary’s Magnificat Song when she found out she was pregnant with Jesus.