The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
A Homily for Christmas Eve
December 24, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 2:1-14
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
The account of Christ's birth given in St. Luke's gospel is the account that we all love, it paints an idyllic vision of the heavy-laden mother, rejected by the world, huddled with her husband to be in the stall of a stable. We imagine simple shepherds gathered around a fire, hunkered down for the night while their sheep sleep or bay quietly in the background, and then the bursting forth of glory, the overwhelming joy of the Angels, grandiose compared to the humility of Christ’s coming into the world. We love this lesson compared to the intensely theological proclamation of St. John or the barebones version of St. Matthew. The beauty, and humanity of it makes it feel warm and relatable.
This is the goal of St. Luke, who wrote to show the humanity of Christ, helping us to see him, not only as fully God, but strikingly fully man. It was not uncommon in the time shortly after Christ's ascension into heaven for people to say the same things we often here today. “Ah, well he was certainly a man who walked on this earth, but he was nothing more than a good teacher.” Or, there were others who proclaimed a stranger heresy, that St. Luke is perhaps attempting combat which says: he was merely a spiritual being, a god of sorts who appeared to be a human being, but was simply a spiritual figure, perhaps an angel. There are in fact sects that still confess this today. However, St. Luke’s testimony tells us that he was truly a man.
Still, there are sometimes doubts about the historical accuracy of this gospel. One such objection says: "well, we find no record of this census, surely this story is just something Luke contrived to make this a better tail, or to give the appearance of Jesus fulfilling a prophecy that he didn't." The reality is, if Luke had concocted this it would have been easily dismissed by those who were contemporary to the historian, and in fact other elements of the Christian gospel were attacked, but never once is this part of the account questioned. While there is no secular record of this census, this by no means implies that it didn't happen. We often find that the secular histories of this time are lacking in detail at times. This allows us to believe that this account has merit.
The story gives us a glimpse into the birth of Christ, his coming into the world, and the theological implications of the events around it.
As we read of Mary and Joseph being rejected at the inn. We often wonder how such a great injustice could occur. Certainly, there must have been a man who would have been willing to give up his room for the very pregnant Mary, been willing to let her rest her weary head. Yet, she's annexed to a stall, to lay her head between ass and colt.
This shouldn't shock, for it is only fitting that the Christ who has been rejected throughout all ages by many in the world would his start his earthly ministry from a position of rejection.
Just as we often want to mold and manipulate Christ into something that we can understand or that will fit our desires so, the world often rejects Christ just as he and his mother were rejected at the inn and as he was so often rejected during his earthly ministry.
So, this story gives us a chance to look at our lives, and ask ourselves, are we rejecting Christ? Where is repentance needed in our lives to live more deeply in His grace?
The world of Christ’s time wanted a divinely appointed King, who was earthly in nature, who was a second king David. They wanted a king who would re-establish the kingdom of Israel, who would be for them a freedom bringer. But this was not the Christ we have received. Christ instead came to usher in the kingdom of heaven. As the earthly authorities rejected Christ, it is no surprise that the authorities at the inn rejected his mother, who was heavy with child.
We do the same thing today, in our presuppositions about coming to faith in Christ we think it to be intellectually objectionable, rationalizing our bad behavior, our disbelief through faulty intellectual arguments. Likewise, the intellectuals of Christ time rejected him. Surely, they must have known deep down inside that he was the Christ, he fulfilled so much, and yet they feared losing their tenuous positions.
Faith requires that we may be embarrassed, may become hurt, may be mocked. Faith, requires that we step out without fully understanding. It requires that we have the humility to admit we do not always know best. This is a challenge, even scary at times. Yet, we do, we risk our reputation for the sake of Christ and Christ works in our humility, for our Christian strength is not found in our own intellectual or physical strength. Christian strength is found in our weakness. Christian strength is found when we forsake our own will, our own strength for His strength. It is then that Christ is strong in our us.
The only thing that is asked of the Christian is humility, and so often Christ is rejected. Humility is a more difficult demand than strength, because it requires that we give up ourselves. Christ is rejected like Mary is rejected, because she was a nobody, because humility was needed in order for her to have a place to lay her head. When it is discovered that we need humility to have Christ in our life, fear is often the answer, or pride.
We want a step by step program in our life, we don’t want free grace, we want to know what to do to be better. This is the scandal of grace found in Christ. We misestimate what it means to be a Christian, we miss the point of grace given freely because it is just that. We want to know how we are to become better. Improvement in the life of a Christian comes though the simple action of submitting our hearts, minds, and souls in love to the will of God, through Jesus Christ.
Just as we fail to understand how Christ works, how Christ comes into our lives, freely gives us new hearts, and works through the Holy Spirit to sanctify us until we are ready to dwell fully in the love of the Lord, so did the people of Christ’s time misunderstand who Christ was, missed his coming in, for he was not the Christ they wanted. Even the inn keeper missed the chance to give Mary a place to lay her head. He missed the most monumental moment in history, the coming of Christ into the world.
Christ to disrupts our habit of life, asks us to become uncomfortable. To give up the habits that are destructive, to give up simple comforts and in this offering up we give glory to Him. In the same way, those staying at the inn were too absorbed in their own need to have their own place to rest that night to recognize the chance to show a weary woman some grace.
So often Christ comes to us and we do not understand. Humility and grace is the Christmas call. For Just as Christ came in the fullness of humility, he comes to us in humility and asks only for humility in return. It is in this humility that he becomes the king of our lives, the messiah that we desperately need to free us from the sin that so often plagues us.
Tonight, as we worship the incarnate Lord, the king of kings who came into the world to save us from our sins we ask are challenged to ask ourselves this question: are we humble enough to allow Him to be the Lord of our life?
Now take heart, when our Lord came into the world, he wasn’t abandoned, left cold and alone in some stall of a faraway stable. This monumental moment, of God entering into the world as a humble baby, in the poorest of circumstances was noticed by some. For, unsurprisingly, Angles sang his praise, and perhaps more interestingly, the lowest of the low were notified of his coming. Notified that Christ came into the world. Perhaps because God knew that they would respond to the disruption of their routine, and would rejoice in the good news of His coming.
This is, after all, how God works isn't it? He comes crashing into our lives when we are at our lowest, when we need him most. Not in our comfort and contentment.
We often have this idyllic vision of shepherds, noble men who loved their sheep. Perhaps they were noble in their own right, and kind and goodly men, but socially they were pariahs, they were on par with the heathens of the regions. They may as well have been foreigners, unwelcomed in the land. They would have been sneered at and looked down upon.
As we look at who recognizes Christ for who he is at his nativity, we see how He works. He comes to those who are of humble estate and calls them to come and worship.
Perhaps, we would have expected the christ have come roaring in, come to sit down before kings, before princes, before the religious authority of his time, but no, he came to the lowly, and the meek. He came humbly and quiet in the night, yet even in this humility the heavens couldn’t keep quiet, as the hosts of angels sang out his praise.
What does it say that it took until he was twelve for there to be an account of the religious marveling before him for his wisdom, while the lowly knew him at this birth?
It tells us what our challenge is, we are to avoid the obsession with position, and pride, but rather pattern our life after the Christmas story and come to Christ in humility. The call is to let Christ be the governor and king of our lives. Let us then rejoice with the angels, the shepherds, the lowly, and the foreigners that Christ has come, that he is saving for himself a people, and that Christ will one day come again to judge the living and dead, and in that last great day, in the grace we find in Him we look forward to enjoying fellowship with the Lord. So tonight, on the eve of the remembrance of that good day where he came into the world, let us rejoice with one voice that Christ has come to give life, that we may walk with God.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.