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Good News of Great Joy for All The People

Tuesday, December 24, 2019 – Christmas Eve Service – 7:00 pm
Rev. Dr. Scott Ramsey, preaching
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20

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SERMON TEXT
Note: Sermon begins at 19:09 in this video
The audio contains the scripture and sermon only

The night is upon us, and the gift is come.  The newness of God that brings good news to outcasts and that disturbs the rule of tyrants has arrived; the freedom of God that liberates hostages and that plucks up and pulls down mighty empires has arrived. Wherever in your life you are wrestling with old habits that no longer serve you, with a loneliness or a deep wound that haunts you, or with anxieties and worries about the future that wake you up in the middle of the night, the news of this night is that you are not alone, that the Creator of the universe knows your troubles and will not abandon you to face them on your own, Jesus will give you everything you need to face those trials, and Jesus goes before you to prepare a way for you to follow.

So do not be afraid, just as the angel said to the shepherds. The angel said, I am bringing you good news of great joy, not just for some, not just for a few, but for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah.  In case you were wondering, the word “you” in that sentence is not the 2nd person-singular pronoun, because the angels were not just bringing this news to isolated individuals.  It is the 2nd-person plural, it is “I am bringing y’all good news, for to y’all is born this day in the city of David a Savior.”  This news is intended for the broadest possible audience.  The news is good, the joy is great, and the intended audience is everyone.

This great announcement from the angels has a three-fold invitation to us on this Christmas, for receiving this particular gift, the gift of Jesus, is not like receiving any other gift.  When we receive this particular gift, when we welcome Jesus into your life, it changes us.  It changes us in beautiful ways, but it does change us.

The first aspect of the invitation is to a life of humility, for when we receive Jesus into our lives, we realize that we are taking our place not among the kings, but among the shepherds.  You may have noticed that Luke 2 does not begin among the shepherds in the fields.  It begins in the corridors of power, where Quirinius is governor of Syria, and where Emperor Augustus decrees that a census be taken, so that the empire can know whom to tax and can know who is available to serve in the imperial army.  The gospel story is aware of those in power, the gospel is savvy about those who think they have all the power.  But the gospel quickly moves away from the centers of power and towards the margins, towards the fields where shepherds are working the graveyard shift.  The first ones to learn of the birth of the Messiah are not Emperor Augustus, nor Governor Quirinius, nor the high priests and religious leaders, but are the blue-collar shepherds out taking care of the animals.  The kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom, inverting the ways of power to which we have become accustomed.  The poor in spirit, the weak, the meek, those in mourning, the humble ones are the center of the kingdom.  That affects our understanding of power and it affects the way we use whatever power and influence we may have.  This can be challenging, especially for those of us who have accumulated considerable privilege, or wealth, or education.  But the news of this night is that the good news of Jesus Christ invites us to a life of increasing humility.

The second aspect of the invitation is related to the first.  Receiving this gift, following this Messiah, growing in humility means devoting our lives to building communities of well-being for the poor.  Building the neighborhood so that the poor have enough – enough food, enough housing, enough health insurance, enough education, enough public safety, enough work, enough wages – these are things that are in all of our interests, they serve the common good.  There are lots of ways to do this; we will disagree about the right policies to do this, but serving the well-being of the poor is a non-negotiable priority for kingdom people, and if we center our attention on the well-being of the poor, then we’re going to come out in a healthy place.  The kingdom of God centers on the well-being of the poor, the gospel is good news for those whose backs are against the wall, in the words of Howard Thurman, because that is how the gospel is good news for all people, and not just for some.

That brings us to the third aspect of the invitation, which could be the most challenging of all.  The third aspect of the invitation is to acknowledge and embrace the face that this invitation, this good news, goes to all.  In our current atmosphere of deep polarization and mistrust of anyone who is different from us, what would it look like for us to practice the belief that the gospel is for everyone, not just for those who agree with us, not just for those who vote like us, not just for those whose way of life is similar to our own?  That the good news of justice, the good news of forgiveness, the good news of God’s love is for everyone?

Friends, it is increasingly clear to me that the world needs a few small groups of people who respond to this three-fold invitation of Christmas – to grow in the spirit of humility – not claiming to know more than we do, aware of our own brokenness and neediness; to build communities of well-being for the poor – to believe that the poor and the vulnerable and the outcast have a special place in the heart of God and in God’s kingdom, and to live out that belief in our daily lives; and to build communities of acceptance and openness and neighborliness towards those who think differently, who vote differently, and who live differently.  Communities like this would be no ordinary communities, which would befit the child who is born this night, who is no ordinary child.  Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among all those whom God favors. Amen.

Permission to broadcast the music in this service obtained from One License with license #A-708462