Luke 2:1-20 “Christmas Hope: Personal, Authentic, and Messy”
December 24, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
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.
The music of Christmas is widely known. A lot of people can hear a medley of carols and know several of them. At the very least, they may know the Christmas carols enough to hum along in a store. Or maybe know them well enough to belt out the familiar words in the car on a road trip. Maybe they even fill in for words they don’t know, play catch up on rhythms, generally letting it all hang out. People know this music enough to be comfortable with it, to play with it, to give voice to it. This caroling is imperfect and joyous. These imperfect carols somehow offer a balance to the technique of Auto-Tuning that perfects the singing we hear on the radio. In contrast to Auto-Tune, these spontaneous carols that we sing are personal, authentic, and messy.
And these carols tell a story. A story that gathers us together late on Christmas Eve night. A story that had its first tellers long ago. Tellers for whom the story is personal, authentic, and messy.
The shepherds in the field who heard the angels sing are shady characters. They are nothing close to the tidy shepherds in the manger scenes that sit in our homes. These shepherds in Luke aren’t dressed in wrinkle-free, tan burlap with white corded belts. They are the dirty ones. The closest we might come to these men in the 21st century would be to call to mind the people who camp under bridges and call it home. Some of us want to claim a respect for these voices from the margin but most of us struggle to figure out how to actually do it.
These are the shepherds for whom the angels sing. They are given first dibs on the story by the angel who tells them – “to you is born this day…a Savior…a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” They head out fast to go see this baby, this Savior. After all, they clearly need one. When they get to the manger, they talk about what’s been told to them. Imagine for a moment the way they tell the story. At best, they tell it in a way that’s personal, authentic, and messy; at best, they tell the story because it’s first and foremost for them. The shepherds need a Savior; it’s obvious that they need one – a Savior definitely for them.
So, because the Savior is for them, the shepherds tell Mary and Joseph, and apparently anyone else who will listen, because, “…all who heard it were amazed.” What amazes them? The story the shepherds tell? That the shepherds are the ones telling it? That a Savior is born? That angels came, spoke, AND sang? It’s pretty much all amazing. The amazing part to me is that Mary heard the shepherds out. The scripture makes a distinction here in verse 19: “All who heard it were amazed but Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She’s just had a baby in a barn, laid the baby in a manger that by day functions as a feeding trough, and she’s treasuring the words of these wild, shady shepherds in her heart. Who does that?! For Mary, this story delivered by the shepherds somehow delivered a message that made sense. At best, perhaps because she heard it in a way that’s personal, authentic, and messy; at best, because…just maybe…it’s first and foremost for her too. Perhaps Mary needs a Savior, a Savior definitely for her.
Time and again in the Bible, we are given story after story about deeply flawed people, authentic and messy people – people who are regularly either hurting other people or hurting themselves. But it doesn’t take a 2,000 year old look back in time to see this play out. Just look, peek around at each other in the pews, or in the shops at the mall, or in your kids’ sports teams, or in the dysfunction in your own families. In all of these situations it is easy to see deeply flawed people, authentic and messy people – people who are regularly either hurting each other or hurting themselves. Similarly to the travelers in the car who sing carols off-key and off-rhythm, so is…well…pretty much everyone who sings without the doctoring of Auto-Tune…which pretty much means you too.
Our lives reveal a truth that we don’t often share with ourselves and try to avoid sharing with anyone else. Here’s the truth…we aren’t living lives that are 100% patient, loving and grace-giving 100% of the time. We don’t even have to open a newspaper to see this mess play out. We see it at work, at home, at church, on the road…you get the picture. Despite our best intentions to “do better next time,” despite the reassurances that we give ourselves about being “good people,” the truth remains: anywhere people show up, so too does the mess.
It is into this very mess, where we spend time hurting each other and hurting ourselves, that God shows up. God shows up, of all places, in a manger. A manger that has a splinter here and a cracked peg there – a manger that is personal, authentic, and messy, a manger that cradles and reveals God showing up in Christ the Savior. The manger reveals the Savior who came under a star in skin and solidarity, into a fragile humanity, to show up in the flawed, personal mess that is our lives. No longer is it self-help, it is God-help; because if history is any indication, we are unable to save ourselves from each other or for that matter, save ourselves even from ourselves.
On the First Christmas, God showed up as a baby bringing hope. “…hope [that] rests not in what we have done, nor can do, but in all that God is,” has done and is doing. And we cling to the promise of Christ’s hope – the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living baby, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God – the eternal God who turns a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.
God shows up and says, “Not so fast…I’ve been there too …I who came in the form of a baby, who lived and walked the earth, who was put to death and who conquered death in rising again…I am God and I have the last word.” This last word of God is grace. Grace brought by the Savior who draws us back into God. And out of this grace, this new found tie back into God, emerges a sustainable hope – a hope that is personal, authentic, and messy as we live into it and talk about it in real time in our real lives.
This is the hope first shared with the shepherds, and now shared among us, as the angel says, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior…” So, good news…for All… This means that this Savior is for the people around you and this Savior is for you. Merry Christmas!
 W. Dennis Tucher Jr., “Lectionary for November 27, 2011: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19.” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx