My message from Tuesday night’s Christmas Eve services …
- Began with our congregation standing and reading Luke 2:1-7 out loud and together;
- Pivoted on Paul’s affirmation in Philippians 3:12 that Christ Jesus had first grabbed on to him;
- Was about 2/3 the length of a Sunday sermon, in recognition of the night;
- Landed at this bottom line: His grip is stronger than your fear.
READ Luke 2:1-7
Ah, such beautiful simplicity in the telling of that story. All the things Luke LEAVES OUT that we would today clamor to PUT IN. We in 2019 are just obsessed with the kind of details – when did her water break, how far was she dilated when you got the epidural, who did Jesus look more like after he was born? … all that kind of stuff. With my kids, who were born almost forever ago, I can tell you those kind of details. But in spite of all that Luke withholds, there is one thing about that baby Jesus born on that Xmas night that I know was true because it has been true of pretty much every baby I’ve met.
He had a strong grip (AV). Have you noticed that with newborns? Their hands have been clenched in the womb for nine months and when they emerge from the warm darkness into the cold flourescence, they are ready to grab on to a finger and hold. It’s true at a day, it’s true at a week, it’s true at a month … something inherent in little babies love to grab your index finger and hold on for dear life. I’m sure that’s what baby Jesus did with Mary, with Joseph, with the innkeeper, the shepherds, and for all we know, the Magi as well. That baby’s got a grip.
And since we’re talking God With Us this Xmas, I’m really struck by all the ways that what Jesus did as a baby he continues to do even today. Because I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of times when I need to someone to get a grip on me because I can’t get a grip for myself. There are things from yesterday that shame me, from today that annoy me, and about tomorrow that make me anxious. That fill me with fear. I don’t know if you’re like this, but there’s even some stuff about Xmas that I sort of … dread … that I’m more than a little anxious about?
Like: did I get the right present for Julie whose love language is GIFTS and you better get it right? Do you have any idea how much pressure that is?!?! Will I be OK with a bunch of people in my house? Hospitality, which is so natural for some, is such a challenge for me. So some things about Xmas that I fear of ever getting right. Maybe it’s that way for you. Perhaps the dread is really, really immediate – you fear coming to church tonight, you’re only here because your family made you, you think someone is going to tell you you’re going to hell, and now you’re not sure you can endure it. That’s OK; we’re glad you’re here & unless you stomp out I doubt anyone will know. Or maybe, just maybe, your fear is for what happens beyond Xmas this year. It’s the fear that the job you have now won’t still be there after Xmas. It’s the despair that the marriage which seems so iffy now will fall off the cliff then.
Or some of you who have up to this point had some self-restraint are fearful and anxious at the thought that you’ll lose it and do something or say something with that someone that whether or not it is reciprocated, will likely blow up your family or your job or both. And for a few of you that fear has no circumstance behind it or before it … it’s that panic that attacks without reason and without warning. You feel like you’re gonna die, you kinda wish you would but then you don’t and how do you recover from that? Yeah, from my vantage point so many people are fill with so much uncertainty and anxiety and you couple those two together and even on Xmas Eve people have fear all around, with little hope that tomorrow will be any better.
Which is why I love the fact that the bible is a library and not a book. Which is why I love the ways the Paul, who struggled with Jesus, augments Luke’s story. Which is why this line from a letter later in the NT that at first glance has nothing to do with Christmas and later it has EVERYTHING to do with it. Check it out: