Special Lessons, read as we ‘build’ the Nativity Scene:
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
In 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.
In 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!’
When 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.
This Sunday has a dual identity in the church: 4 Advent and Christmas Eve. This gives us an opportunity that hasn’t happened since 2006 to explore the connection between the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary (4 Advent) and the birth of Jesus (Christmas Day).
All of the OT prophecies, all of the prayers by centuries of followers of God, came down to the moment when God sent one of his chief angel to have a talk with Mary. Gabriel delivered the plan for Jesus to be born to a 14 year old girl named Mary. She would bear a son; he would reign over the house of Jacob forever; and there would be no end to his kingdom. And now the whole future of creation hung on her answer. Imagine the angels in heaven being gathered around, holding their breath. “What will she say? Will she do it?” They would be anxious for the answer because they knew God’s rule of free will; people have the freedom to answer “yes” or “no”. There is no demand; but each of us has the freedom to decide whether to go at life on our own – or to go it with God.
God’s plan had led to in this moment; when an angel stood before a teenage girl, answering her questions, trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice, as he and all the heavenly hosts, and even God, wait for her answer. Will she do it? Will she say, “Yes” to being the mother of Jesus?
We know the answer Mary gave: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” She chose to live her life for God; and her decision changed everything. The Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor writes that by her decision, “Mary becomes the most important woman in the world simply because she is willing to say ‘yes’ to an angel’s strange proposal, without a clue where it will lead her.”
A priest friend of mine, John Buenz, was awarded the Bishop’s Cross a few years ago. When he was presented that award he gave a short but powerful speech. He said that for the many years he was a rector, he was so busy that he was very careful about not over committing, and so he often had to decline invitations. But when he retired, he decided that he would always start by saying ‘yes’ to invitations. He said that saying ‘yes’ has been the most exciting experience in his life.
Think about the awesome power of saying yes;
Yes, I will take the responsibility to get a driver’s license.
Yes, I want to marry you.
Yes, I want children.
Yes, we will buy this home.
Yes, I will take that job.
Yes, I want you as my friend.
Yes Lord, I see that this baby Jesus is your decision to be present with us as a human being, who could then live among us and teach us what Godly love looks like.
Yes Lord, I accept you into my life; in fact, I ask you to direct my life as you wish.
Today we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. The joy and excitement we feel is not because we haven’t experienced Christmas before; it is not because it is a new idea that we should celebrate the birth of God’s Son.
The joy and excitement of Christmas is about each of us being given a fresh invitation to say ‘yes’ to God; just like Mary said ‘yes’, and Joseph said ‘yes’, and the shepherds, and wise men, and generations of Christians have said ‘yes’. Yes, God, we celebrate your son; we celebrate your love for us; we celebrate having a new chance to hear the story of Mary’s decision to be part of your plan, and the story of the angels rejoicing at his birth. And we celebrate with all the angels in heaven, “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.” Merry Christmas!