Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017
[sermon begins after the Bible reading]
Luke 2: 1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 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. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And 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!”
15 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.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Imagine if you will, a young couple. She’s very pregnant. Puffy cheeks and feet. He’s young too. Both just starting out in adulting and there hasn’t been a moment to catch their breath. Mary’s surprise pregnancy first sent her into hiding for several months at her Cousin Elizabeth’s home in the hills. Now she’s back with Joseph in the town of Nazareth. But that doesn’t last long either. Emperor Augustus calls for a registration census so that taxes can be collected. With his decree, Joseph and Mary travel the 80 miles to Bethlehem. There could have been a donkey to ride. Although at many months pregnant, four days of donkey riding doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. I imagine that they were slower than many of the other people on the long and winding road, taking more breaks along the way. It’s no wonder that the inns were full by the time they arrived.
For all the drama that’s easy to imagine, the story is sparsely told. It’s told in almost bullet points. You and I both know that it couldn’t have been that simple. There’s a saying in the news business that, “All news is local.” I would say that all news is about people. People in situations often beyond their control. The Bible couldn’t be less like a newspaper. It neither follows modern journalistic guidelines nor could it ever hope to meet those standards. But Mary and Joseph’s story shows local people trying to live during a time when religious and political events are well beyond their control.
It makes me wonder if it’s a similar lack of control that fuels the latest “Christmas miracle” craze. I’ve heard the term in the past. But this December it seems to pop up everywhere describing good news big and small. Christmas miracles are listed in the news as melt-in-your-mouth recipes, pet adoptions, inspiring health recoveries, snow in Texas, and even includes a tongue-in-cheek report of an ER staff who performed surgery on an Elf on the Shelf named Sam after the family’s dog went rogue. I’m totally on the band wagon. It feels really good to throw my arms in the air and announce, “It’s a Christmas miracle!” Sometimes it’s celebration and sometimes it’s snark but it feels good and it makes me laugh every time.
Naming things a Christmas miracle seeks to name the good – from small things like not burning forgotten toast to big moments of joy that defy explanation. One thought is that we name them miracles because we want to see the transcendent in something tangible, relatable, and real. Who wouldn’t want a Christmas miracle?! Apparently the shepherds are game to see one – although the “good news of great joy” comes from an angel that’s hard to ignore and quite terrifying to boot.
What about this savior that the angel announces? What is one way we can think about that savior today in light everything that happens beyond our control? The Bible story goes on to tell us that the child who is born is named Jesus. Jesus, who is God. God, who is Jesus. Jesus whose life reveals God’s love and care for all people regardless of class, gender, or race. Jesus whose ministry of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness leads him to an execution on a cross. But before we’re privy to those parts of the story, God begins with a baby. Perhaps God knows what most us know. Not many can resist a baby. Babies get our attention. A baby certainly grabbed the shepherds’ attention – with a little help from the angel.
Rallying through their angel terror, the shepherds made haste to Bethlehem to see the child. The new, young parents hear an earful from the shepherds about what the angel told them. The story tells us that, “Mary treasured all [their] words and pondered them in her heart.” Like Mary, we are left to ponder their story in our hearts. It’s a funny thing what happens when left to pondering. We notice random things when they would otherwise slip by. For instance, my husband and I watch the show The Voice. It’s a weekly singing competition. Four superstar performers act as coaches and judges. Viewers cast the winning votes. In the live, top 8 performances this season, superstar Jennifer Hudson says to one of the contestants, “Allow yourself to feel it…stop singing a perfect song and tell an imperfect story; you should pretty much be on your knees when you get done.” Because this sermon was on my mind, my first thought when I heard Ms. Hudson’s say that was, “It’s a Christmas miracle!” No, but seriously, she was my Christmas preacher in that moment.
“Stop singing a perfect song and tell an imperfect story.” How many of us are trying to sing a perfect song to cover for our imperfect story? Want to hear a real Christmas miracle? Your imperfect story, everything that is out of control and beyond your control, is exactly where God begins with you. This is where God’s transcendence becomes tangible, relatable, and real because God meets us right where we live – shoving aside that perfect song we try to sing about ourselves and, instead, tells our imperfect story. So, we can just leave that perfect song to the angels and heavenly host.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The Bible is an imperfect story told by and about imperfect people that reveal the Christ perfectly. It’s like the manger that holds the baby Jesus. Maybe it has a bent nail or a few splinters, but Jesus is in there. Revealing the One who came under a star in skin and solidarity. Revealing the One who comes in vulnerability – fragile, dependent, and hungry. Revealing the One whose story is imperfectly told so that we might see that our imperfections, our vulnerability, our fragility are revealed and held by God who also sees and names the good in you, calls you beloved, and names you children of God. It is, indeed, a Christmas miracle.
Thanks be to God!
 “Imagine if you will…” is a line of narration used in The Twilight Zone.
 Here’s a link to a websearch of key words “Christmas miracle.” https://www.google.com/search?q=christmas+miracle+2017&tbm=nws&source=univ&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi965GngP3XAhUI2WMKHSoiBucQt8YBCEQoAQ&biw=1366&bih=662
 Luke 2:9
 Jennifer Hudson to Davon Fleming, direct quote, minute 23:50 as televised with commercials. The Voice: Live Top 8 Performances. Season 13, Episode 24, December 11, 2017, on NBC.
 Martin Luther paraphrased from the Preface to the Old Testament (1523/1545) quoted by Timothy Lull in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd Ed, Ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 114. https://tollelege.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/dear-is-the-treasure-who-lies-in-them-by-martin-luther/