It is a bedrock tenant of our Christian faith that love came down at Christmas. Tonight is Christmas Eve and we are here to worship the newborn king. In his amazing act of putting aside his godhead to be one of us, God demonstrated how deep and selfless his love really is. The mystery of Christmas is that God’s love cannot be captured or counted, measured or written down. But each of the gospel writers give us glimpses into the mystery, bringing us into those thin places of the world where heaven touches earth, where eternity breaks into linear time, where God’s divine holiness blesses ordinary human life.
Matthew gives us Joseph’s story. Joseph was a man in crisis. He was engaged to Mary, but not yet married to her. When she tells him she is pregnant his response is not to ask about the father but to dismiss her quietly. Matthew tells this remarkable story of Joseph, who resolves his crisis with a righteous and amazing faith. The angel came to Joseph in his dreams and said, Do not be afraid, for the child in her is from the Holy Spirit. What was he to make of such a message? Being a righteous man who lived according to the Law of Moses, he was required to end the betrothal. He even had the right to have Mary stoned to death for adultery, but he tempered his faith with mercy and decided to let her go quietly. But God, through the angel, turns the Law upside-down. The angel directs him to wed Mary and claim the child as his own. He is not to be concerned about her purity for God has chosen her to carry this child. I think it took Joseph some time to trust that this was the solution to his crisis. But in time, he began to trust that love, rather than religious legalism is what turns crises into blessings. Joseph said yes to God, and discovered that love was indeed coming down in Mary’s pregnancy.
Luke gives us Mary’s story. She, of course, had a different crisis going on, being pregnant and unmarried among a people who might well have stoned her to death. I have talked a lot about Mary in my Sunday sermons, about the power of her courage accept the words of the angel and to submit herself to God’s will. Joseph and Mary were able to say yes to each other because they each believed their angelic messengers and said yes to God, trusting that God would see them through the crisis. They discovered together the vast ocean of God’s grace and love which sustained them through their harrowing journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is about 85 miles, the same distance between Cuba, New Mexico and Albuquerque, a journey I made when I was also great with child and in labor I did it in a car ride that took about 1½ hours. I can’t even imagine what Mary’s journey was like for her. This young couple was traveling at this impossible time because Caesar required more taxes. In Luke’s telling, the city was so full of travelers that the only place available to give birth was in a barn. This birth would normally have gone unnoticed in the cruelty of the world. But this baby was special, and those who had the ears to hear and the eyes to see were witness to the love which came down that first Christmas.
In accordance with the angels’ instructions Mary and Joseph named their baby Jesus, which means in Hebrew, God will save. The angels proclaimed him Immanuel which means God with us. God in Jesus Christ came to save the world from the bondage of sin. Christ brings light to a world of darkness. Christ is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And Jesus is the baby whose mother sang him to sleep next to the animals in the barn. In the ordinary event of human birth extraordinary love came down at Christmas.
There is a verse in the Bible that I memorized as a child. I am sure most of you have as well. Say it with me: John 3:16, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son; that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. This is the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ, that love brought him into the world, not to condemn it but to save it, not to condemn us but to save us. We already know that the saving love of God is spoken of as Light coming into a world of darkness. On a cosmic level, there is this great battle going on between the obedient angels of light against the disobedient diabolical angels of darkness. On an ordinary human level, we know that a lighted candle or thrown light switch can make a dim unfamiliar frightening place glow with the warmth of home and safety. On a theological level, we know that Jesus, as the Light of the World, overcomes the darkness of sin and sorrow, disobedience and hate, ignorance and inhumanity, with the light of grace through faith.
If there is any power in grace through faith, then the content of our faith matters. If there is power to save us in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then it cannot be conditioned upon whether we choose Christ as our path to salvation, believing that there are other paths, equally powerful. Jesus said, those who believe in me are not condemned, but those who do not believe3 are condemned already, because they have not believe in the name of the only Son of God.
But the Good News—and there is always Good News—is that Jesus Christ came to bring life and light to all people, especially those who walk in darkness. And since we all walk in darkness, the Light of Christ shines on all of us if we simply believe in the power of his name. Love came down at Christmas. It came down in the lives of two young Jews who said yes to God and each other. Because of that, my dear friends, love comes down forever. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those whom God favors.
~ Interim Pastor Helen Rose Moore