Grace and peace to all of you this Christmas Eve!
Tonight we hear, from Luke’s gospel, the story of Jesus’ birth. This is the same reading we hear every year in some form. So, we are familiar with what happens. But tonight, I am wondering just why did Luke tell the story this way? The story is different in Matthew, the only other Nativity story we have in the gospels. In fact, Matthew’s story is very short and includes few details.
It is in Luke where we hear about the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Luke begins with recounting all the important people and events of the time. And I think he does that on purpose. Luke is asking us to compare the rulers and important people—the wealthy and influential people—with Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem on foot and having to stay where the animals were kept. Jesus’s first bed was a feeding manger, and the first visitors were not powerful either, just shepherds watching over their sheep. You may be thinking, “Wait what about the wise men? The three kings?” There are no wise men in Luke’s gospel. Luke wants us to focus on the poor and lowly. And this is the focus of all of Luke’s gospel: lifting the poor, the sick, the outcasts. So it is fitting for Luke’s story to begin with a child in a manger, a family far from home and strange visitors in the night.
God comes not at the center of the world to straighten things out a bit, but on the fringe to call the orders and structures of the day into question and bring a new beginning altogether. Luke's story—if we're willing to listen—witnesses to the simple, yet scary, fact that God didn't come, in Jesus, to make things a little better, a little more bearable. God came to turn over the tables, to create a whole new system, to resurrect and redeem us, rather than merely rehabilitate us.
And so God comes at the edges of the story and our lives, to speak quietly, but firmly, through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother and the cry of her infant—that God is irreconcilably for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more.
Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Jesus, we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love and have heard the good news that "Unto you this day is born a Savior, Christ the Lord." Amen.