“Coming Home for Christmas ~ Luke’s House” (3 of 4)
Malachi 3: 1-4 & Luke 2: 1-7 ~ December 5, 2021 ~ Northwood United ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
“Baby in Car” You have likely seen bumper stickers that read as such. “Baby in Car”, “Little Prince en Route”, “Little Dude in the Back”, “Chosen One on Board”. You certainly learn a lot about drivers by reading their bumper sticker. You learn about their political leanings or social movement support or favourite sports team simply by reading their bumper sticker.
I’m wondering, what happens in you, when you see a vehicle with the “Baby in Car” bumper sticker? I’ll tell you what happened to me. When I first saw the sticker, I saw it ‘BC’ – that is ‘Before Children’, and frankly “baby in car” rubbed me the wrong way. The vehicle displaying the bumper sticker proceeded to drive like they should be treated as royalty. They drove as if to say ‘give me extra space I have a precious baby’. I would see them weaving in and out of traffic, speeding faster than allowed, acting like the rules of the road didn’t apply to them. And frankly, I wondered…what about the car with those two seniors: don’t they matter too? Or the car with a single mother on her way to work, doesn’t she command the same respect? Or the 17 year old ‘New Driver’ with a green “N” on the back, doesn’t he need us to give him a little extra room? So, initially, I didn’t much care for the “baby in car” bumper sticker, until something happened. You probably guessed it…I had children of my own. After I held my first newborn child in my arms and her helpless face gazed back into my eyes, I understood the sentiment that lay behind the sticker. When a parent places a “baby in car” sticker on their bumper, they are telling the world that a vulnerable, precious life is with them. I would like to suggest as we explore Christmas at Luke’s house today that he would have placed this bumper sticker on his car. And as we explore his gospel account of Jesus’ birth, that is EXACTLY what he does.
Just to bring us to where we are on this third Sunday of our series…We have been considering Jesus’ arrival / Christmas through the different gospel narratives. We began with Mark, and you will recall Mark offers a very odd ‘Christmas’, if you can even call it a ‘Christmas’. The complete absence of a manger, shepherds, angels or wise men. And we recalled how we ALL have had Christmases like that, too. Jesus’ arrival is told in the story of his wilderness wandering of temptation, testing and hunger. And somehow in the seeming absence of Christmas, Christ still (somehow) arrives. It is a good gospel to have in mind when it seems like God is absent and nowhere to be found, for indeed we discover that Christ does arrive in the wilderness ~ the trials, testings and temptations of life. Matthew’s Christmas is quite the opposite. A royal experience beginning with a grand Christmas tree – the family tree of Jesus’ lineage through royalty, through saints, and…sinners, all the way back to Abraham. Reading through Matthew’s Christmas includes all the features of an idealic Christmas: angels, shepherds, and, wanting to lift up Jesus’ connection to royalty, this is the one gospel where we find the wise men opening their treasure chests of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And in this joyous celebration of Christmas, Matthew invites the saints and sinners, the kings, queens and slaves all in one celebration to the liberating One – the Christ. A grand celebration indeed!
But Luke is the one who puts the bumper sticker “don’t forget the baby” on Christmas. Before Jesus arrives in this morning’s passage, we have prophetic visitations calling us to behold what God is about to do. The angel Gabrielle comes to the (so far) overlooked Mary saying: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God…you will conceive and bear a son, and you will call him Jesus, and he will be called the Son of the Most High…He will reign over the house of Jacob, forever, and his kingdom will have no end”. And when the perplexed Mary inquires “how can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel will assure her, saying “nothing is impossible with God.” The pregnant Mary will sing the greatest song in scripture, the Magnificat ~ the prophetic song of Mary. Her soprano tone will echo through the millennia: My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.”
And before Jesus is even born, before Kings and Emperors begin to realize who the baby will be, John the Baptist’s father ~ Zechariah the priest, will speak the Benedictus. Filled with the Holy Spirit proclaiming: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us…you child will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…to give light to those who sit in darkness… guiding our feet in the way of peace.” And then we have this morning’s text…the arrival of Jesus in Luke’s 2nd chapter. The birth story.
Following Zechariah’s Benedictus and Mary’s Magnificat, we might expect that Luke has laid the path for a grand birth story: an angel has spoken, Mary has sang, Zechariah has prophesied. Luke has our attention. We might imagine the birth with: heavenly storks descending…angelic nurses attending…majestic choirs resounding…as Mary gives birth to the Messiah. But as we discover, that is not even close! What we discover is that the arrival of Jesus is overlooked, the birth is unwelcomed, and Jesus’ coming is almost a ‘non-event’. And, for Luke, that is EXACTLY his point. Where the generations had been awaiting a grand Messiah, a majestic Liberator, a powerful Christ, what God was birthing was new way, a new order, a new kingdom birthing into the world. Instead of a powerful Liberator, Luke’s story births a vulnerable baby. Instead of a royal palace welcome, the birth occurs in a manger where they keep the dirty animals. Instead of a powerful Messiah who will lead the destruction of the Kingdom of Rome, the birthing of God’s gentle way comes on that Holy Night through a vulnerable child birthing the Kingdom of Peace.
Mary’s song in the first chapter is so important for Luke’s birth story. The angel’s answer to Mary’s question of “how can this be, since I am a virgin” was “nothing is impossible with God”. The point Luke wants to make is that “nothing is impossible”. To Mary’s question… “How can this be?”…nothing is impossible is the consistent answer. To Mary and Joseph’s poor timing of travelling when the delivery occurs…nothing is impossible. To the challenge of an inhospitable world where there is “no room at the inn”…nothing is impossible. Nothing is impossible with God is Luke’s point in the birth! What might that mean if you received this good news in your life’s challenges….Nothing is impossible!
Luke will proceed to tell a gospel about a Liberator who will show that everything IS possible with God. He will tell the only story of the boy Jesus going into the temple, teaching the teachers about the ways of God. Luke will tell more stories than any other gospel of Jesus’ healing: his care for the lepers, the sick, and the possessed. Luke will be the one who tells the story of God’s nature of going after the lost: the parable of the lost coin where the widow will sweep out her home until it is found; the parable of the lost sheep where the shepherd relentlessly searches for that one sheep; the parable of the lost son where the Father celebrates the lost returning home. Luke will tell Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaching us to care for those in the depths of their need.
In short, the vulnerable one who is not welcomed into the world will teach us how to care for all the vulnerable in the world: the foreigner, the poor, the lost, the sick. Coming home to Luke’s house for Christmas is a gift for those who are lost…for you will be found there. Come home to Luke’s house for Christmas is a gift for if you feel broken…you will find the beginnings of healing. Come home to Luke’s house for Christmas is a gift if you are hungry…for you will sit at the head table and dine. Luke’s Christmas offers room at the inn – whether you are hungry or thirsty, feeling lost or broken, feeling unworthy or cast aside. Luke’s Christmas offers room for ALL…for that is where the humble Christ is born.
Only God knows the depths of our lives. God meets us in the joys and the pains and walks there with us. I wonder where you need to go for Christmas this year? Perhaps it will be a grand celebration with all the trimmings at Matthew’s house. And you will find there a ‘family-tree’ / a reminder that Christmas celebrations must be broadened as we think about how we reach out to others and share the Christmas light? Perhaps it might be a gentle Christmas, a quiet-celebration at Mark’s house where you just ‘can’t do Christmas’ the same way this year after all you have been through. Yet somehow Mark’s house promises that you will find the Christ light gently birthing in the wilderness you walk. Or, like this morning, you might be at Luke’s house where Christmas reveals a vulnerable God whose plan it is to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted and bring the lost home, for nothing is impossible for God.
Let us further prepare through this season of Advent to come home for Christmas, for God’s welcome is for you!