December 24, 2011 – Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
© 2011 Evan D. Garner
Over sixty years ago, a man moved his family from Birmingham to a small Alabama town, where he started a new timber business. An entrepreneur in the truest sense, he built the firm from scratch, which meant that he took his wife and three children from relative security to a life on the margins. Eventually, however, his hard work and his family’s patience paid off, and the business became a profitable enterprise.
As the years passed, the man’s youngest child—a son—watched his father work. Occasionally, he would accompany his dad to the mill, helping out with small chores. Finally, when he was old enough, the son was permitted to take a summer job, working long, sweat-soaked hours under the supervision of his father. Although a bright student, the only son never really considered another line of work. He had fallen in love with the business and, more importantly, with earning his father’s respect.
For over a decade, father and son worked side by side. During those years, several changes came to the timber industry, the result of which was increased financial pressure on their independent family firm. With innovation and strategic planning, the duo was able to adapt to those changes and keep the business afloat. But during that period, something else was changing, too. Years of smoking cigarettes had taken their toll on the wife and mother of that pair. Although father and son were close to each other, the matriarch had long been the glue which held the family together.
As her emphysema progressed, the often solitary father withdrew completely and grew even more quiet. A distance began to grow between him and his son, and, by the time his wife breathed her last, the father was hardly saying a word to anyone. The grief was substantial for everyone in the family, but the father was completely crushed by his wife’s death. He simply didn’t have the will to keep going. So, in the weeks following the funeral, he decided to close the firm and sell off its assets.
Desperate and lost and too wounded to say it out loud, the father made that decision without ever consulting his son—the child who had given everything he had to make his father happy. When he showed up for work and learned that his livelihood had been sold out from underneath him, he was even more hurt than when his mother died. Now, the son was truly an orphan, so he left town, moving his family as far away as he could go.
Years went by with no contact—not only between the father and son but also between the father and everyone in his family. He walled himself off from them, refusing to answer the phone, return any letters, or even open the door when his daughters and grandchildren came by to visit. The brokenness that the father felt at the loss of his wife spread throughout the entire family, and it remained that way for years.
One year, though, at Christmas something changed. It came in the form of a canned ham, delivered by mail to his three children. It wasn’t just the ham, of course, which was little more than a cheap tin of processed meat. What came with that ham was an opening—an invitation back into the life of a lost parent.
I wish I could tell you that everything was fine after that—that all the wounds were healed and that the family became close again—but it didn’t quite work out that way. Things did soften, and the father and son did speak to each other again, but some of the brokenness between them lingered even beyond the father’s death. They never truly achieved reconciliation, but at least the father and son were able to look into each other’s eyes before it was too late. In that moment, as the son now prepared to bury his father, each could see in the other’s face that same pain—the hurt that they had shared throughout the years of separation. It might not be a fairytale ending, but it was enough to give both of them a little peace that each could hold onto.
A long time ago, on a cold, lonely night, in a humble stable, a mother gave birth to a little baby. That baby was Jesus, and he had come to save the world. The world he was born into was broken and hurting. It was a world torn apart by hunger and strife. It was a world plagued by pain and grief. Yet that was the world into which God sent his only son, and it was within that very brokenness that God chose to dwell.
Christmas is a celebration of God’s decision to take on human nature and become fragile, wounded, and broken just like us. Before the birth of the Christ child, God’s love had always been given from a distance—from a place of safety, removed from the pain and suffering of this existence. But, when God became flesh, he took upon himself the very essence of our brokenness—the hurt and the vulnerability that we know too well. God, who is all powerful, became tiny and weak. God, whom no one could ever contain, allowed himself to be wrapped up in a little baby. God, who had never before known what it means to feel lonely or betrayed, accepted a life of pain and sorrow. But why?
God loved the world so much that he sent his only son to take upon himself the brokenness of the world. We are broken. We are hurting. Many of us suffer the ache of lost loved ones or the agony of ruined relationships. Many of us know what it means to be lonely, desolate, and empty. Some of us have felt the sting of betrayal. Some of us have been to the very bottom of life. But so, too, has God. And therein lies our hope.
Tonight we rejoice that God loves us enough to take all of our brokenness upon himself. The true miracle of our faith is that God was willing to become one of us and to suffer as we have suffered. Therefore, we are not alone. You are not alone.
On this holiest of nights, hear the good news of Jesus Christ. God came down from heaven to dwell among us. In the deepest expression of love that anyone has ever conceived, God took our broken human nature upon himself and became flesh—just like you and me. God is not beyond our reach. He is here with us. On this night, we remember that God is with us in our weakness. He accepted our pain so that we, in turn, might be set free from everything that hurts us.
Cast your very brokenness upon the shoulders of your savior. Feel God himself sharing that burden with you. Look again at the birth of the Christ child. And see that birth as a promise that, because God is willing to accept your pain, one day that pain will be yours no more. Amen.