1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.
4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
It is the fourth Advent!
The Countdown continues…
Only two more sleeps until Christmas.
Some of you are thinking:
“Good! I still have tomorrow
to get that last perfect gift for my dad…
right Karis & Mattias.”
The children can hardly wait…
They are so excited for their program tomorrow night.
The stage is set!
Excitement is in the air!
And the choir and drama team…
They have been practicing so hard
To fill the air with angelic voices
And join the choirs of angels
And heralds, and shepherds, and wise men
to announce once again the birth of Baby Jesus.
We feel the excitement!
We are on a mission to make it through Christmas.
We’re on the go….
And, we also feel a touch of panic and unrest
And we wonder why.
We recognize that we are all sooo busy!
So frustratingly busy.
And, in the midst of the business of the season
In the midst of our trips to the shopping mall…
Standing in long line-ups…
Hurrying to yet another Christmas party
With a hot dish or a tray of goodies
that took you hours to prepare,
And will take only minutes to devour…
In the midst of family get togethers…
loaded with a mix of joys and anxieties,
In the midst of everything else that is part of the season
We labor on!
We can feel the pregnant moment.
The time is upon us!
Christmas is right here...
But it hasn’t happened yet.
It’s like the experience of an expectant mother
as she goes into labor.
The time is unstoppably upon her!
The baby wants to be born.
The baby will be born.
There is no holding up
the sequence of events that is about to unfold.
She’s just praying that it wont happen
Somewhere on an elevator
Or in a taxi cab on the way to the hospital…
We want to be ready!
We have to be ready!
It is time for God’s Big Interruption of the Course of History.
A few days ago I made a confession to a group of friends
That “I was not in zone yet”.
For me Christmas – the Spirit of Christmas –
That magical feeling of wonder that “Jesus is born”…
The eternal child of God touching me,
And coming to me at this Christmas time
Had not yet occurred.
When I thought about my comment later on –
(I sometimes say things first
And think about them later) –
I felt a bit like Mary must have felt…
“She pondered all these things in her heart.”
Sometimes we have to stop and ponder…
We must let the truth “gestate”.
After a thought has been conceived
It has to grow and develop.
Forgive me for not being as pious
As the shepherds,
And Joseph and Mary,
Who seemed to have a perfect grasp
Of God’s plan of Salvation…
In traditional Christmas pageants
These characters all appear
So perfectly in tune with God –
They appear to be be waiting
and ready for God’s revelation at all times.
I envy their readiness for God
This time of year.
Throughout this entire season of Advent and Christmas
I had that nagging feeling of being interrupted.
I’m trying hard to focus on the meaning of Christmas…
I’m trying to zone in to the Spirit of Christmas…
And lo and behold, there’s yet another interruption.
Who needs 10 inches of snow on top of all the rehearsals
and shopping and gatherings and so on?
Don’t get me wrong…
I don’t mind interruptions in my work.
I know that’s part of my job.
You’re focused and concentrating
On an urgent task.
You’re trying to meet a deadline,
And you’re afraid it’s not going to happen on time.
And just when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel
you get that unexpected interruption.
(I think by definition
Interruptions are “unexpected.”)
Otherwise we could plan for these events
And schedule them in
Between all our regular tasks.
Think of some of the interruptions
that you have experienced lately.
…Unplanned and unscheduled events
That mess up your well organized routine:
Interruptions that you don’t really have time for
At this busy time of year…
Let me clarify that some interruptions
Are actually pleasant surprizes and opportunities –
But they are interruptions nontheless.
There was the MDS service trip
that was undertaken just as we entered the busy season.
I would have loved to go along,
But other scheduled events did not allow that.
There was the sound of wedding bells
ringing in between the Christmas Carols.
One person’s Christmas season was “interrupted”
By a long awaited letter that offered forgiveness
And new life – that was a very pleasant interruption!
There is the birth of a child
And the promise that it brings.
But, some interruptions are also pretty annoying
And sometimes frightening.
Who needs car trouble this time of year,
When it’s soo busy
And when Christmas bills threaten to break the bank?
Many in our church family felt
the interruption of their health.
Cancer treatments that were scheduled
to start before the holidays…
An unexpected visit to the Emergency room –
(I hear that they have designated
a Springfield Heights Members only ward at Concordia).
There is the notice from the doctor that says,
“your test results tell us that we have to do more tests.”
And the twice rescheduled surgery of a little boy
that finally takes place,
only to see him back at the hospital a few days later.
“Christmas at the Hospital” – Oh the joy!
There is a call from a father and son from the community
who need help to “sort out a few things with the law”…
Then there is the unexpected death of a grand-mother…
and planning the funeral of a grand-father just this week…
Funeral preparations instead of “home for Christmas”.
Many people are interrupted by painful memories…
There are some who feel a nagging sense of unrest,
and they can’t put the finger on what’s bugging them,
until it hits them like a Mac Truck
that it has been a year
since their loved one died.
Christmas will do that to you…
Tears of sadness interrupt our joy.
There are the harsh words of an employer
Demanding better results… or else.
And an unexpected lay-off…
There is the holiday trip that you took,
not because it was the most convenient time -
but because it might be the last time…
This doesn’t sound very spiritual or Christmassy…
Interruptions are like that servant of God
That the prophet Isaiah writes about.
Isaiah wrote about the Christ, the suffering servant.
We look at interruptions in the same light
as Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant.
Isaiah 53, 2b
He [It – the interruption] had no beauty
or majesty to attract us to [it],
nothing in [its]appearance that we should desire [it].
(indeed we don’t desire interruptions)
3 [It] was despised and rejected by [all],
[an experience]of sorrows, [that brought us] suffering.
from [which] [we] hide [our] faces
[it] was despised, and we esteemed [it] not.
That is how I sometimes feel about interruptions!
Who has time for them?!
We’ve got better things to do.
Got places to go and people to see.
Interruptions can be painful,
And annoying at best.
Rather than feeling the magic of Christmas descend on us,
We experience frustration,
(I’ve heard that word many times these days).
We experience sorrow,
But wait a minute!
This sounds very much like the original Christmas story
from the Gospel of Luke.
The story of Jesus’ birth is a story packed with interruptions:
There’s the “unplanned pregnancy” of Mary…
The census ordered by Caesar Augustus…
Who’s got time to travel 500 miles
To get there name into a book,
Just so that Caesar can collect more taxes?
There is the disappointment of hotels that are booked solid…
There is no room for a mother-to-be and her husband
To spend the night.
There are the shepherds in the field watching their flocks,
Because they already felt the interruption
Of their nights’ rest by a thief or a predator so often …
There is the mysteriously shining star
interrupting the ordinary activities
of scholars and wise men from the East.
And the choir of angels
suddenly lighting up the night sky of Bethlehem…
Talk about something that is frighteningly unexpected…
This is a story packed with interruptions…
when God is at work
then we just have to stop doing what we’re doing
and pay attention.
When God wants our attention
God sometimes speaks in a language that we don’t like.
Sometimes God has the nerve
And mess up our well thought out program.
When God “invades” our lives
It’s not always comfortable.
I have come to accept these interruptions
As part of our necessary preparations for Christmas.
These interruptions at the time of Christmas,
teach us that God is present,
That God has come to us…
And that God continues to meet us
In the unexpected or even sometimes annoying
And frightening events -
In the “interruptions” that we cannot ignore
And that we have to deal with,
Whether we like it or not.
We do well to embrace these interruptions
To ponder them in our hearts…
To go into labor…
And experience the birthpangs in full force…
Only then, will the truth of God’s love and grace
Be born in us.
The angels told the shepherds,
“This will be a sign…”
We too are looking for a sign.
We like signs!
We’re thirsty for that “Christmas Spirit”
Peace on Earth,
Goodwill to all,
That radiates out from the very center of our soul.
How does a young woman in labor know,
that she and the baby will be OK?
How does someone who has lost his job
Find confindence that there will be food on the table?
How does a grieving spouse know
That there will be hope and a future?
How do we know that THIS is Immanuel – God with us???
How do we know that God is in these interruptions?
“You will find a baby… in diapers… in a manger…”
The shepherd’s may have thought,
“What do you mean?
A baby and diapers in a manger?”
Isn’t that how you will find every other ordinary baby?
In diapers? In a crib?
That is so ordinary!
So every day!
No one ever expects God to show up in something
As insignificant as a baby…
In the “unwanted baby” of a teenage girl, no less…
To the natural person this is nothing but an “Interruption”
to our well-planned routine.
No one expects God to show up…
To be born…
In and through an interruption.
Think about that totally inconvenient event…
that annoying – even frightening - interruption in your life.
Through the heartache and tears of disappointment
ponder it in your heart – like Mary did.
Look for the sign of God’s presence in the midst of it all.
And in the fullness of God’s time,
He will come to you and me
And faith, hope and love will be born anew.
The "good news of great joy"
always brings with it a demand for change in us.
When birth arrives it demands room;
it rearranges our priorities;
it usually makes a mess of our ordered lives.
God’s interruptions in our lives
Teach us to humbly ask:
“Where is God in this?”
What is the significance of this interruption for our lives?
And when we approach it with an attitude
Of awe and wonder
Then we too will see the face of God
Smiling back at us.
God gifts Himself to us in unexpected,
Sometimes pretty odd ways.
God is with us in the interruptions
May the eyes of our hearts be open to see it,
When God comes to us.