Christmas Eve 2019 10:00 pm
Child of Mary and Joseph we laid you safely in a manger, wrapped you in thick sentiment and barely remember how long ago you came. Yet you still break in upon us in our daily lives with messages of peace and demand we do something about it.
Keep us faithful to you so we may be faithful to each other. Amen.
One of the hymns sung during the season of Advent is Prepare the Way, O Zion.
We think this is John the Baptist, but it’s really Isaiah’s promise to a people who are in need of reassurance of God’s continual love and protection. Zion, not just a city but a beloved people who are sought out and not forsaken.
I think Mary might have felt very similarly. Mary’s song, Breath of Heaven, asks the very poignant question whether someone else might have been better prepared. But she is the one God sought after, she is the one who has been protected, she is the one who gives birth to this promise. And she, along with Joseph, are given his name. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Zion is a people who are being given new names to sustain them in their trials; God gives to Mary, Joseph, the people of their Israel the very common name of Jesus. But it will be the name that is remembered for generation after generation. And the unexpected nature of this birth is enough to question in our own hearts what his name means to us. God with us: do we believe that? The city, the chosen ones of Zion are laying claim to new names. But in those names are titles
that will require commitment. Righteousness. Inclusion. Judgment. Fellowship.
And Mary had to think of these as well. Was she committed enough to know her ‘yes’ would change her life forever? Did Joseph understand what would be required of him?
Do we understand what is required of us in the naming of this child? Righteousness.
Inclusion. Judgment. Fellowship. We struggle with being faithful to God and faithful to each other yet when we are we find new life and new direction. We want to be included in our families but sometimes that just bring more pain or it brings so much joy we can hardly believe it. And judgment! Who wants to be judged? Yet without judgment there is no faithfulness. Fellowship means we are committed to each other in our worship,
in our life in God. And being in fellowship with God with our communities of faith
is a sign we are like Mary in saying yes to what is yet unknown. Being a righteous people meant for Zion they would be driven deeper into reflection on God’s purposes
which for them, for Mary, for us is also being moved continually closer to God’s lavish promises of protection and love. Mary knew God’s love in the birth of the babe even in the birthing room of a stable, a place hardly sufficient for Emmanuel. Yet here they are
and here we are yet again. Not a pretty and clean place but stinking and dirty. A stable
possibly a cave, a place of birth for animals and now a place of birth for God’s promised child.
We love this night but it fades so quickly. Tomorrow is a day of that promise but the day after is just another day for many of us. We forget to light up the tree, we put away any gifts we might have received, we stop playing Christmas carols. But God wants us to remember this birth every day of our lives.
The prophet Isaiah compared the city of Zion to watchmen upon her walls. Keeping watch, like the shepherds, but keeping watch on God. Will God do what God has promised? Isaiah challenges us to be persistent in our faith struggles but be persistent in claiming God as a part of those struggles. Mary was not this meek and mild young woman; she was bold as bold can be accepting what the angel came to tell her. She would bear the promise of God with her as well as God with the nation of Israel
and God with us. And that is the promise we need to keep reminding God that we will have holiness within reach. Do not turn your back on God as Isaiah prophesied to Zion;
do not turn your back on worship of God. Mary never did; neither ought we. Amen.