This has been a difficult year for me. My wife describes herself as suddenly becoming an old woman. She has balance problems, arthritis, bladder trouble, A-Fib and trouble with the arches in her feet. Recently she had surgery on her feet that led to hospitalization and rehab. Tonight, she is at Clapp’s Nursing Center, and although she will be spending some time with family tomorrow at our house it will be some time before her feet will be healed. This will be the first time in 50 that we are not at worship together on Christmas Eve.
But that is not the only area that concerns me. Our democracy is in trouble. Democrats and Republicans are not working together for compromise. There is even talk of a possible Civil War. Covid-19 keeps evolving and now Omicron is the chief variant. People are getting back to work, but inflation is beginning to rear its ugly head. I know my wallet is in trouble whenever I go to the gas pump.
It was not all that great when Jesus was born. He was being carried in the womb of an unwed mother. The Jewish people were being occupied by the Romans, and the emperor decided he needed to know how many people were in his Empire. Scholars have guessed that he wanted to discover how many men he could draft into his legions of conquest, and how much money he might be able to get in the way of taxes. So he issued a decree that every male needed to go to his hometown to register. That meant Joseph and Mary would have to go to Bethlehem to register. Scripture says she rode on a donkey, and he walked. I suspect it would be comparable of the distance between here and Raleigh.
Years ago, when Ann was very pregnant with our son Michael, we were given permission by our doctor to drive from Ohio to her brother’s wedding in Dallas, TX. The only rule was we needed to stop and Ann needed to get out of the car and exercise every 50 miles. At first it was no problem, but gradually it was mandatory to stop. It was the most uncomfortable trip Ann had ever taken.
I suspect it was a difficult, painful journey for Mary so ready to deliver her baby.
Things got even more difficult when they got to Joseph’s hometown. There was no room for them in any of the housing, including the Inn. But they were offered bedding with the animals. Mary delivered her baby there and laid him in a manger. How many of us would like to deliver a baby among animals and make a feeding trough the bed for our child?
And yet God was with them. One powerful truth strikes me that is revealed in the scripture. Israel at one time was an enslaved people. Years later after they came to the Promised Land 10 of the 12 tribes were taken off into exile, never to be heard of again. And the two tribes of the Jerusalem area had to walk to Babylon when they were exiled. Israel, in the eyes of the secular world was a small country and of little significance. Yet God chose these people as special who were charged with making his will known to all the world.
Yes, Jesus born in a place where animals were kept became the Savior of the world.
God does great things using people, and situations that the rest of the world would find so unimportant. What might that tell us about our small church at the corner of Main Street and Skeet Club Road?
Next it is in the midst of difficult circumstances that the light of God shines so clearly.
It was in the middle of night that the light of the Lord shone with the Heavenly Chorus to the shepherds.
Or I like how the light is described by the Gospel of John.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him… All who received him who believed on his name became children of God.
In college I had difficulty balancing a social life with my job and going to school. I almost flunked out. My mother was mentally ill, and my stepdad was an alcoholic. But the Lord sent light into my darkness through the woman who became my wife, and my college advisor who told me my parents had made their decisions as to what was important for them. It was time for me to discover what was important in my life and go for it. I did, and eventually got married, had children, and became a parish pastor.
Recently I was going through another difficult moment. I was grieving my wife would not be here with me tonight. Her health issues are many, and I was wondering what the future holds. I was talking to a member of this congregation and offered to pray. She said to me. “You have many times prayed for us, would you please let me pray for you.” I was deeply moved. Then she prayed for Ann and me and I felt the light of Christ pierce through the darkness and touch my soul.
St. Michael has had some difficult moments in its life. There have been times when folks wondered if it were going to close. But Christ has regularly been the light that has shown in the darkness and a new chapter was born.
Yes, light has the most powerful effect when it shines in the darkness. May that light lead us into God’s future as we celebrate Jesus’ birth tonight. And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.