December 24, 2019 – Christmas I
© 2019 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here. Video of the entire service can be seen here.
He didn’t like riding the bus after school, but he didn’t have a choice. At the start of his third-grade year, his mother had gone back to work part time, and he was big enough, she had told him, to come home and get a snack and do his homework all by himself. It didn’t help that his bus driver was the meanest bus driver in the whole world or that she daily threatened to leave him if he didn’t hurry up and get to the bus on time. He was a good kid, perhaps even dutiful, and, as soon as the second bell rang—the bell for bus riders—he went straight from his classroom to the bus line outside. Even though he never even stopped long enough to say goodbye to his friends and practically ran through the halls, he regularly got to the bus after the driver had closed its doors and started to pull away from the school.
He had asked his teacher if he could leave early, when the first bell rang, because he was so worried about missing the bus, but there was no reason why a third-grader couldn’t get from the classroom to the bus on time, so she refused his request. He tried explaining his predicament to his mom, but what she heard was a son who really missed being picked up by his mother and spending the afternoons with her, so she gently reminded him how important it was that he rode the bus every day because she needed to work. He knew she was right. His father’s hours had been cut, and they needed her income to keep things afloat. He told his mother that he understood and that he would try his best.
A few days later, however, his best wasn’t good enough. Racing through the hallway to get to the bus, he had been scolded by a teacher, who made him stop and explain to her why he had been running. He simply said he was trying to get to his bus. She believed him but told him that he had to walk. Looking over his shoulder to confirm that she was still watching him, he walked as fast as he could to the bus line, but, by the time he got there, it was too late. His bus, Bus 81-7, was headed out of the school driveway and onto the main road. He just stood there, staring and helpless.
He walked back inside and went to the office. He spoke to the school secretary, his voice barely audible. She said something to him about sitting down and waiting, but he didn’t really hear what she said because his mind was stuck in that place of panic and fear. He waited for what felt like hours, and, as the school steadily emptied out—first the students, then the teachers, and finally most of the administrators—he began to realize that he was in big trouble. When the principal came out and spoke to him, reiterating that it was his responsibility to catch the bus, he nodded apologetically but kept back the emotions that were beginning to overwhelm him. All he could think of was how important his mother’s job was, how she couldn’t afford to take time off to come and get him, how critical it was for the whole family that he catch the bus.
Eventually, when the office door opened and his mother walked in, all his emotions broke loose. Any anger or frustration she had felt disappeared instantly as she beheld her broken son and saw how fully he had inhabited his failure. “I’m so sorry,” he said through his sobs, and she held him and assured him that everything was going to be ok. “I didn’t think you would come,” he said to her. “I didn’t know how I would get home.” “Well, I wasn’t going to leave you here,” she explained with a generous chuckle. “I was always going to come and get you.”
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The miracle that is this night is not that a savior came into the world 2,000 years ago when the heir to David’s throne appeared in the Holy Land but that God’s salvation would come to people just like us in a moment as familiar as a birth and as close to us as a nearby pasture. Our savior comes not as a superhero who does battle with evil and whose success is featured in international headlines but as an infant whose power to save is as familiar as a parent’s loving embrace. The redemption of the world comes not in a legendary victory or a supernatural event that captures the attention of the whole world but in a birth as ordinary and universal as any we have beheld. In other words, on this night we celebrate God coming to each one of us and saving us in a moment as personal and powerful as any we have ever experienced.
It didn’t have to be that way, of course. God didn’t need to come as an infant who was born in a lowly stable and placed in a feeding trough by his teenage mother. God didn’t have to share the news of his arrival with, of all people, some shepherds—the kind of people whom no one really wants to listen to. God could have been born in a palace and could have declared the news of that birth on an elaborate golden easel, releasing official photographs through the media. God could have come down from heaven with power and great might and established God’s throne on the earth, demanding our allegiance. Eventually news of that decree would trickle down to us, mediated through official channels and passed along by emperors and governors, priests and religious officials. But then it would always be someone else’s news and someone else’s savior. God can’t wrap God’s arms around you in the news of something that happened long ago and far away. That is why tonight’s proclamation of salvation coming as a little child is so important.
This night the angels of heaven come to a field on the outskirts of town, perhaps a little ways down Highway 112, just a short drive from the hospital. There, the glory of the Lord fills the hillside as the multitude of the heavenly host proclaims God’s favor and love for all people. The salvation that comes into the world is not merely the birth a hero who will grow up and do great things but the birth of Emmanuel—God with us and in us. By taking our very nature upon Godself, the birth of Jesus was a moment in history that changed all of history by bringing salvation not only to the world but to each and every one of us. We are, in the Incarnation, embraced by God and filled with God’s saving love. All of the brokenness, the struggle, the suffering, and the failures of our lives are wrapped up in God’s generous perfection. In the birth of Jesus, they are redeemed. In the infant Christ, our very imperfection itself is made holy.
The savior who comes into the world is as near to us as the very nature of God that dwells within us. It is as real and personal as a parent’s consoling embrace yet as powerful and wondrous as the almighty power of God. Hear again this night the good news of this night. Hear the angels sing the song of our savior’s birth. Draw near and see for yourselves our loving God, who heals us and saves us by being born within us.