Christmas Eve: God With Us
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined. Amen.
I have to admit that one of my most favorite Christmas memories has nothing to do with Jesus. In fact, it has to do with, yes, presents. When we were little kids, my little sister and I were—in my opinion—pretty accommodating. We waited until the sun came up to wake our parents on Christmas morning. In Casper, Wyoming, that’s after 7 a.m. which is a long time to wait for kids itching to tear into gifts.
But when light started to pour through the living room window, we’d be at our parents door knocking. “It’s time!” we yelled. We knew better than to barge in and jump on the bed. Alas, we did not live inside a Hallmark movie.
They’d come out, my mom in her robe, my dad in his sweats. They’d smile and ask us to wait just a few more minutes as they made coffee—something I understand much more now than I did then. Finally, when the coffee was made, and mom and dad were snug on the couch, we’d take turns opening presents one at a time.
And you know, I don’t remember a single thing I got. What I remember is the look on my mom’s face. She lit up with such joy and love. She loved seeing us happy. She loved making us happy. She loved caring for us. And her love language is gift-giving, so she was as psyched about Christmas as we were.
I’m not a parent, so I ask all of you who are: do you relate?
It wasn’t about the presents. I mean, it was kind of about presents when I was a kid. But mostly it was about joy. It was about that connection to someone we love deeply and who loves us deeply.
It was about relationship.
And isn’t that what this season is all about? Isn’t it about having this time to intentionally be with people you love. To celebrate. To sing. To sit in the glow of the Christmas tree and recognize the love that is in your life?
And isn’t that what can make this season so hard for some of us? Everyone around is celebrating, singing, and enjoying the people in their lives, but maybe you’ve lost someone. Either to death or to addiction or mental illness or just good old fashioned, terrible conflict. All of that celebrating and singing can feel pretty unbearable when relationship has been severed or lost.
There is so much going on in this Christmas story from Luke’s gospel. We hear it year after year, so maybe we don’t always recognize just how rich it is.
I can’t imagine how scary it was for Mary to be away from home and to go into labor. I can’t imagine how frustrating it was to not be able to find a warm, comfortable place not only to sleep, but to give birth. I can’t imagine the desperation Joseph felt to take care of his fiancee.
But there was joy, too. The deep joy of bringing life into the world, the pure happiness of seeing for the first time the child who had been living inside you for so long. The everyday awe of birth, of new life.
I imagine the moment that Mary holds Jesus for the first time. That sacred quiet, that incredible peace.
And just put yourself in the sandals of those shepherds. You’re in the middle of nowhere, enjoying a quiet night with your sheep, and suddenly there’s this being of radiant light descending from the sky who has decided to tell you, of all people, about the savior of the world being born.
They were terrified at first—which feels about right. But then I imagine that terror shifting into confusion...then surprise....then wonder...then excitement.
In the midst of all of that, God comes into the world. In the midst of our fear and frustration, in the midst of our desperation. In the midst of our joy and awe. In the midst of our terror, our confusion, our surprise, our wonder.
We see it here every Sunday during our prayer time, when this community shares the hard things, the amazing things, the overwhelming things going on in our lives.
God comes to us—baby Jesus came to us—in the midst of all of this. In all the ways we are human. In this beautiful mess we call life.
Because the story of Christmas is the story of Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. God WITH us. God choosing to be in the most intimate relationship there is: choosing to become human, choosing to live our experience, choosing to know our sadness and terror and joy first hand. For God so loved the world, God gave God’s only begotten child to share our life, to breathe our breath, to die our death.
And not only did God come into creation, but God chose to come into a particular situation in this creation. Jesus could have been born to a mighty king or an emperor. Jesus could have been born into wealth and influence. Jesus could have been born to a great warrior who could have taught him to conquer the world.
Instead, God came down into a situation of struggle, of oppression. To a Jewish family living in a Roman-controlled military state. To a community that did their best to make ends meet.
And isn’t that good news? That instead of choosing the easy path, the path of power and domination and wealth, Jesus chose to be with us in our pain, our suffering, our struggle.
I think this season is so powerful for us because it speaks to our deep longing for relationship. To be known and understood the way God chose to know and understand us through Jesus. So we want our people, our family—blood or chosen—near us. People who make us feel like we’re loved not despite who we are but because of who we are.
People you can be messy around. And not just leave your socks on the floor, pile of dishes in the sink messy, but leaving all your baggage out messy.
Because we all have baggage that makes us act some sort of way sometimes. Luckily, we have the kind of God who arrives in the midst of our baggage and carries it for us while walking beside us. Jesus is the ultimate comforter.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.
The story of Christmas is the story of relationship. And not just Jesus, God with us. But the Body of Christ, all of us with each other. And our God is a show, don’t tell kind of teacher. The way God is with us is how we’re called to be with one another.
How big do we love? Are you willing to know and understand another person the way you want to be known and understood? Are you willing to love the way you want to be loved?
That’s the story of Christmas: A God who so loved the world that God was born to us in the midst of the mess and took on our flesh and knew us, understood us, loved us.