Homily: December 24, 2014 - Christmas Eve


Can we talk?

Shall I be frank with you?

It’s really hard to preach a Christmas sermon.

Some of you only come here for the nostalgia, or out of a sense of tradition,

others come for the singing, others to be with family and friends.

Most of that is all wrapped up in a predictable package,

like the ones most of your minds are on under the tree at home.

I doubt many of you really come for the theology or pay close attention to it,

or if you do find it either quaint or troubling.

So what do I say?


How about this:

Forget everything you think you know about the birth of Jesus:

the way we have come to tell the story and sing about it in our classic hymns—

well, it’s about as accurate as a Rudolph-saves-the-day television special.

The real story is that Jesus was probably born in September, around the Feast of Sukkot,

most likely in one of the homes of Joseph’s large extended family in Bethlehem.

Mary and Joseph didn’t just wearily stumble into town,

but arrived several days before the birth, Luke actually says that much himself,

and because there were so many people gathered for the festivities

there was no place for them in the guest room

(that’s what the Greek text says: “guest room” not “inn”).

So the family kindly gave pregnant Mary their own main living quarters,

which like many peasant houses in the middle east to this day

combined space for both people and animals.

And while the birth may have taken place at night,

it’s unlikely Joseph was ever in the room to observe: men just didn’t do that.

There would have been lots of women in attendance, however,

midwives and grandmothers, cousins and aunts.

Eight days after his birth Jesus was circumcised.

33 days after his birth—when his mother was considered ritually clean again—

his parents took him to the temple in Jerusalem to be blessed

and to pay the temple tax required for a first born male.

Then they all returned home to Nazareth,

where the gospel says the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom,

and the favor of God was upon him.

So no bleak mid-winter cold, no ox and ass, no cruel innkeeper.

Oh, and the wise guys and the star?

Well, to begin with, they’re not even part of Luke’s story;

they only appear in Matthew’s version.

And maybe they brought gifts, maybe not, but they arrived about two years later.




And none of that matters.

Because none of that is important to the story.

It’s all window dressing, partly made up by the author of Luke,

added to when the Infancy Gospel of James was written in the 2nd Century,

and then added to again in the 14th Century when St. Bridget of Sweden

had a series of famous visions about the nativity.

And it’s all charming and poignantly familiar and comforting—

but none of it matters: all of this detail is beside the point.


The point is Mary, our human representative in this scenario, saying to God

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

The point is that we proclaim that nothing is impossible with God.

The point is that this child is named Jesus, Yeshua, “He will save.”

The point is that we believe that in this child, this man-to-be, God acted in a new way,

stepping into the ever-unfolding time-stream of the cosmos as a full participant,

out of love for, longing for, need for relationship with creation.

The point is that this Anointed One of God, the Messiah, the Christ,

shows us how to transform our lives in ways that challenge all conventional wisdom

about success and prosperity and power and authority

and the real essence of what it means to love and be human.


Nothing else matters.

Not where he was born, not when, not how.

Only the power of God acting in and through him

and unleashed into the world in such a way as to act in and through us.

This is the mystery of the incarnation, my friends,

God made flesh in Jesus and in each of us;

this is the heart of what we celebrate this night, God with us.

This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing;

haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.







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