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First Reading – Luke 2:1-20
2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Throughout this Advent season, we have been noticing the ways that God can be found in the smallest box under the tree, not the big flashy box. We talked about how God is present on the smallest days, not just the big events. We talked about how God uses our smallest acts of faithfulness, not just headline-grabbing heroic acts. We talked about how God works through the smallest everyday people – those overlooked by others.
This Christmas Eve, we’re going to talk about how God changed the world by coming as a small baby. Near the beginning of my pastoral career, I was able to go to the Holy Land and visit the place of Jesus’ birth. Of course they built a giant church on top of it, but that church wasn’t there at the time. But even inside this giant church, Jesus’ birthplace wasn’t on the ground level. We had to go down into a small cave to visit the birthplace.
Jesus wasn’t born in a Temple or a palace or a castle or a cathedral. He was born in a cave that was being used for the animals. He was in the leftover spot, not the place of honor. As a side note, I have always wondered how that conversation went when Mary and Joseph were trying to find a place to sleep. Because this was probably the home of some distant cousins, not a Marriott. I mean, can you imagine if your 2nd cousin arrived at your house after driving across the country in their beat-up 1974 El Camino, and she’s pregnant – like baby’s coming out any day pregnant. And would you tell her, “Oh yeah, you can stay with us. We have twenty people over, so we’re pretty full. And, I know you’re pregnant, but there’s a little corner in the basement between our kitty litter boxes. That’s the best we got.”
I just really want to know how that conversation went. It had to be interesting. But I digress.
The birth of Jesus was a small moment that eventually became the most consequential turning point in history. But it started in a cave and a little baby. We already heard that story, but now let’s hear how the prophet Isaiah saw it coming hundreds of years ahead of time.
Sermon Text – Isaiah 9:2-7
2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Little Things Add Up
We have been getting ready for Christmas in my household over the past couple of weeks. Wrapping presents. Finding childcare when the kids got out of school. Planning for three church services on Christmas Eve. Plus the normal stuff like groceries, cooking, cleaning, and laundry. The accumulation of tasks led my wife to remark, “I wish there were more hours in the day!” Have you ever wished for more hours in the day?
If so, I have great news for you! The day is getting longer! Why, we have a whopping 1.7 more milliseconds per day than in the early 1900’s. What will you do with so much extra time? If you rewind a few hundred million years ago, the earth probably finished its rotation in just 21 hours, so you can be way more productive each day than those ancient jelly fish just floating onto the scene back then.
The earth’s rotation might only be slowing down by a few milliseconds per century, but even that adds up over time. It’s kind of like a dancer or ice skater spinning around. [DEMONSTRATE] If you spin with your arms out wide, you spin slower. But if you spin with your arms tucked in close, you spin faster. Little changes in the positions of your arms can dramatically affect your spin. The moon is doing that to the earth by sloshing around the oceans, moving the arms of an Earth-sized ice skater, slowing down the spin and making each day slightly longer.
Little things add up over time if they’re consistent. You can trap water in your hand, but enough water over enough time can carve the Grand Canyon. Or here’s an example for the math geeks among us. I assume we have at least one or two math geeks in addition to myself. Maybe? No? Well too bad, you’re getting the math example anyway!
I’m going to give you a choice. Option A – I’ll give you a million dollars today. Done. Easy.
Option B – I’ll give you a penny today, but I will double your stash every day for a month. Once cent today becomes two cents tomorrow becomes four cents the next day. You get the idea.
Which option will you take? Well if there were any math geeks among us, they would say to take Option B. It starts small and slow. One cent, two cents, four cents, eight cents – that sounds like nothing. But after ten days you’re up to ten dollars. You can almost eat at Panera for that! After twenty days you’re up to ten thousand dollars. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. And after thirty you’re up to ten million dollars. All from one little penny and consistently doubling it every day. Little things add up over time if they’re consistent.
God’s Little Choices
God has been making choices for hundreds and thousands of years that may seem small at the moment, but they add up over time.
I mean, if anyone has choices, it’s God, right? Capability isn’t a limitation. Knowledge isn’t a limitation. Power isn’t a limitation. Just choice.
So let’s think about this. On a scale of 1 to 100, how much does our world reflect God’s will in heaven? I don’t give us super high marks on that. How much do people individually reflect God’s will and design for them? I don’t think humans individually reflect God’s will all that great. If you’re feeling bold, you can give yourself a 1 to 100 grade on that, too, but I won’t make you go there tonight if you don’t want to. You can take a pass on your self-grading. Merry Christmas from your pastor 🙂
Whatever grade you handed out to the world, there’s some kind of gap between what God dreams for us and what we actually do. Given that gap, God could have chosen to judge us as unworthy and wipe us out. But instead we find the love of Jesus entering the world.
Given that gap, God could have chosen to overpower us and just force us to be good little robots instead of messy little people. Instead of overpowering us, God chose to lie down as a baby in a manger sitting between the kitty litter boxes in a backwater town. Instead of force, we were given the love of Jesus.
Instead of judgment, God chose love. Instead of force, God chose love. Instead of giving up on us, God chose love.
And that’s a choice we can make, too. Every little time we choose love over judgment, we change the world a little bit. Every little time we choose love over power, we change the world a little bit. Every little time we choose love over fear, we change the world a little bit. Every little time we choose love over hatred, we change the world a little bit. Every little time we choose love over self-interest, we change the world a little bit.
And those little things add up over time. More directly, those little choices change us and change the people around us much faster than the moon changes the length of the earth’s days. Love changes the people around us much faster than water carved the Grand Canyon. Love changes the people around us like a skater moving their hands to change their spin.
Sisters and brothers, this may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it hasn’t been the most wonderful year, has it? It’s been tough, it’s been a little weird, and it has been a time of confusion and anger and doubt and division. It’s OK to admit that.
But we can still choose love the next time we get the chance. The more we choose the love of a baby in a manger, the more opportunities we give for things to spin a different way. If you want to spin differently, choose love next time. If you want your family to spin differently, choose love next time. If you want your city to spin differently, choose love next time. If you want your state or your country or your world to spin differently, choose love next time.
It may seem small, but small things add up when they are consistent.
2000 years ago, God chose the love of a baby in a manger instead of a flaming sword of anger or the judgment of a lightning bolt. That little choice eventually added up to you being here today. What little choice will you make to honor the love of that baby in the manger? Merry Christmas.