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When We Are Rendered Helpless, God Breaks Through

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Christmas Eve Sermon

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

I’ve been thinking a lot about canaries in coal mines lately. You all probably know what the canary in the coal mine is about. Until 1986, miners in Britain, Canada, and the United States brought canaries into the mines with them deep in the earth as an early detection system for carbon monoxide.

Canaries are special birds who fly at higher altitudes than most. Their bodies take in an extra dose of oxygen so when they’re in the thinner air up high they can breathe for longer. It also means that when they’re in a mine, they’re taking in a double dose of the air down there. If the mine is collecting carbon monoxide, the bird will be the first affected by it. If the canary passes out or dies, the miners know that it’s time to evacuate.

Whoa, this turned a bit dark for a Christmas Eve message, didn’t it? But actually what I’ve been thinking about is what the opposite of the canary in a coal mine is. Because of the special way it was created, the canary was able to bring warnings of danger, of the potential for death. But what or who does the opposite for us? What or who brings tidings of joy, of the potential for life? Who gets the message first to deliver to others? Who was created in a particular way to be able to deliver this message?

I don’t know. Where do we typically look for good news? Certainly not the newspaper, not these days. Maybe we look to our religious leaders? Or to our political leaders—or at least the ones we agree with. Maybe experts in economics or epidemiology or whatever kind of good tidings we’re looking for.

Sometimes I think we look for the good tidings we want and not the good tidings we need, and that changes where we look for it. We go on facebook to confirm our opinions. We watch certain news channels that give us the tidings we want. We surround ourselves with people who look and live and think similarly to us to confirm that the tidings of our lives are good.

But that’s where God comes in. When Jesus arrived, God sent the news to the most unlikely messengers. The angels visited shepherds, and I can tell you right now that the shepherds were not titans of industry or politics or religion. They weren’t even working class. While the government demanded that Joseph and Mary travel to be counted in a census, the shepherds were out tending their flock in the fields. The government didn’t count them. They weren’t important enough to count—not the way Mary and Joseph were. They were hustlers, living not paycheck to paycheck, but minute to minute on what their flock and the land could provide.

The good news doesn’t come to the powerful, it comes to people on the margins. It doesn’t come to the people who have it together, it comes to those trying to keep it together.

The people God chooses as messengers aren’t well-off or well-connected. They’re people struggling to make it through each day.

Just like most of us. I mean, who knows—right now you might be bearing a message of great joy, a message God can’t wait for you to deliver. You just don’t know it yet.

Me? you might think. I don’t know about that. I’m not important enough. I’m too normal, too messy, too broken. But think about it. The tidings of joy came from the shepherds. Just some guys out in the fields with their sheep, invisible to the rest of world, getting through life the best way they knew how.

What I’m trying to say is that you are exactly the perfect messenger for the good news of God coming into this world.

Because you’re normal. Because you’re messy. Because you’re broken.

Because you are vulnerable.

We know this because we know the Christmas story. We just heard it. “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. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Jesus didn’t come to us as a grown adult, fully formed, powerful and thoughtful and faithful. No, God chose to come into this earth in the most helpless way possible. The most vulnerable way possible: as a newborn baby. The man who would become our savior had to be fed, burped, and changed. He was fully and utterly dependent on others to survive. Our own savior!

That God came to us utterly vulnerable is the most powerful part of this story. That God came as a helpless baby tells us something about what God values and how God breaks into the world. That God sent the angels to the shepherds before anyone else tells us something about who might be the most powerful messengers of the Good News.

I’m going to admit something to you: I’m exhausted. This pandemic has me burnt out. The constant shift in guidelines, the constant vigilance when I’m around other people, the constantly adapting my work for the church so that we can all stay connected. It’s been heavy. I feel so raw, so vulnerable.

And listening to your community prayers week after week, I know you’re exhausted, too. You’re raw. You’re struggling. Some of you have had covid and are still recovering. Some of you have lost jobs because of the pandemic. Some of you have been living in isolation for nine months now. Some of you have been stewarding children through online school. For some of you, the pandemic has just compounded other struggles: depression, illness, family conflict.

We are all so vulnerable right now.

But guess what: that is the good news. The good news tonight is that God arrived in the world as a helpless, vulnerable baby. As my wife says, God has a preferential option for the desperate. In Jesus, we know that God finds us through our vulnerability.

The good news is that we don’t need to have everything together. We don’t have to power through, pretending that everything is fine. The good news is: when we are rendered helpless, God breaks through. Amen.

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