December 24: Vigil for the Feast of the Nativity — Christmas Eve

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Christmas Eve was based on the manuscript below and preached as a response to Luke 2.1-20.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine texted me.
He was in New Orleans for a work conference
and his partner hadn’t gone with him.
He was out and wanted to be social
but didn’t know anyone.
Being there alone felt awkward
so he wanted some advice
for meeting people.
Good news:
I had that advice.
Bad news:
walking up to a group of people who know one another
Discerning who the Gretchen Weiners of the group is,
and saying
“Excuse me!
I’m visiting from Seattle for a conference
and need someone to hang out with.
Can I join you?”
is no less awkward!

Even for the most confident,
comfortable in their skins person,
going through human life
is pretty awkward.
We can’t walk or talk when we’re born.
Babies are often cute
and always gross.
They get bigger
and repeat things they shouldn’t.
Then a parent has to offer gentle corrective
while awkwardly beginning to police themselves
knowing that little ears are always listening.
Then we get a lot bigger
really quickly
and our bodies are awkward to move in space.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg
of teenaged awkwardness
from figuring out how to communicate with peers
to self-differentiating
and becoming one’s own person.

It doesn’t end.
It doesn’t stop.
Tough conversations have to be had.
Confessions have to be made
and apologies rendered.
Forgiveness given
or withheld.
Relationships changing, breaking,
and being mended.
Or not.
Experiencing good news is lovely.
Experiencing bad news is heartbreaking.
Having to share either with other people
can be awkward and uncomfortable.

Our beloved passage from Luke tonight
is filled with a number of awkward points.
Mary is pregnant
but Luke tells us
that she and Joseph aren’t married.
How did that go over with the family?
Or the grapevine in Nazareth in Galilee?
They’ve made their travel to Bethlehem,
which is a 31 hour walk with modern roadways.
There’s no room in an inn,
so their family puts them in the lower level
with the animals.
Even if you like them,
staying with family is awkward
especially if the house is already full
but they have an obligation to host you.
“We’re with the animals,
I just gave birth,
and there already aren’t beds,
so I’m gonna swaddle you tight
and put you in the feed trough, okay?”
Quite the breakfast conversation the next morning!

After Mary has given birth to Jesus,
shepherds in the region get a visit
from a supernatural being.
“I am bringing you good news of great joy
for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Tomorrow we’ll hear from John’s Gospel
about Jesus being God,
the Word made flesh.
But tonight we hear about the birth itself,
about God the creator of the stars of night
choosing, choosing
to be born as one of us,
fully God and fully human
despite how messy and awkward we are.
In Jesus’ birth
God in Jesus is preparing for teenage years
of answering
“Oh, yeah, Joseph’s my dad
but he’s not really my dad.
God is.”
Being a teenager is awkward enough
but God willingly agrees
to endure it.
That’s how much God loves us.

The angels tell the shepherds,
not the royals
or the Right People,
but presumed untrustworthy,
raggamuffin migrating itinerant workers
“born this day in the city of David is a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

God comes to us in Jesus
to set us free from sin and death.
God lowers Godself
to the messy parts of being human,
Jesus is willing to participate in history
and through that participation
sanctify history itself.
God takes on matter,
Jesus is willing to come through the parts of life
that parts of having body
that seem gross
feel awkward
to redeem the created order.

The awkwardness of my own life,
even that yet to come,
is probably worth it.
I don’t know that I’d choose it
if there were some easier way.
That’s what Jesus does, though.
He opts-in to awkwardness,
volunteers be cringe and be around cringe
in order to save creation
and defeat sin and death.
He made situations in adulthood
even more awkward
because of his love for us.
That’s what we celebrate tonight.
“Good news of great joy for all the people:
to us is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Swaddled and in a feed trough,
having become what he wants to save,
here so that we can be
and have been
set free. Amen.

Leave a Comment