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For Unto You Is Born This Day

Luke 2:8-20
Lauren J. McFeaters
December 24, 2017
Advent IV

More majestic than “Let me tell you a story,” or “Once Upon a Time” or “Listen to this tale,” opening lines are at the heart of our Christmas memories. If I were to read the first line of a Christmas story, you’d most certainly be able to guess the book. For instance:

Marley was dead, to begin with.
There is no doubt whatever about that.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot.
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.

The little town straggling up the hill
was bright with colored Christmas lights.
But George Bailey did not see them.
He was leaning over the railing of the iron bridge.

It’s a Wonderful Life by Philip Van Doren Stern.

And if you can guess the next one I’ll buy your coffee. It’s my very favorite Christmas story and it starts like this:

Imagine a morning in late November.
A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.
Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.
It’s fruitcake season.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote .

But when we hear…

And there were in the same country,
shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night.”

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:
and they were sore afraid.”

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day
in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

…an entire world opens before us. You can hear it can’t you?

  • There are those shepherds we know so well.
  • There’s the angel of the Lord.
  • There’s the multitude of heavenly host praising God.
  • It’s what we’ve been expecting. There’s no more waiting.
  • The Holy breaks in and punches a hole through the sky.
  • Angel choirs and scurrying sheep,
  • Terrified shepherds who then dash off to town,
  • Wails of a mother in labor and baby cries,
  • Bleating sheep, and bellyaching Inn Keepers,
  • Braying donkeys and cackling hens, and snorting oxen.
  • It’s a great big cacophony of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

It’s the greatest story ever told.

And here we are on the Morn of the Eve and we’re ready to hear it and see it for the thousandth time or the first time and it’s the story, told through Word, and song, and prayer. The stunning Good News told through the Nativity, the Creche, or a Manger scene.

Christians all over the world create Nativity scenes to display in homes and churches; indoors and out. What does your Nativity scene look like? I grew up with a ceramic manger scene made in a pottery class by my mother Joanne when she and my dad were stationed on Parris Island in South Carolina. All the pieces are creamy white and outlined in gold. Each year the characters were carefully laid out on glassy spun white floofiness and small lights poked up through the cotton layer below it. It was enchanting.

I loved that Nativity. When we were old enough my sister and brother and I carefully unwrapped the figures and placed them under a lean-to plywood manger, with a hole cut out in the back, a single light poked through to light the tableau and highlight the angel hanging from the rooftop.

Over and over my sister and brother and I would arrange and rearrange the figures. It was like a Holy Dollhouse. We loved to move the baby Jesus around and my parents would find him in the strangest of places, like the stable rooftop or hiding behind a camel. We just loved trying to take hold of the story and making it our own.

All over the world children are doing the same thing.

In Peru, many Nativities are carved from humango stone and children place a chullo, an Andean hat knit from alpaca wool, on the baby Jesus to keep his head warm.

In Wales, children add a washerwoman to the scene. The washerwoman assists Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and reminds each household that they are essential to the story.[i]

In Uganda, children take figures made from the inner bark of the Mutaba tree. It’s an ancient African textile craft that makes each figure the color of rich terra cotta. And Mary is seen with hands clutched over her chest, showing her pondering “all these things in her heart.”

In the mountains of Nepal, artisans use husks to create the Nepali Nativity and children place the ox and cattle very close to the baby, so the animals’ breath can keep the baby warm.[ii]

Over and over again, from the four corners of the earth, Jesus is being unboxed and unwrapped and set into scenes. He’s being born where we need him most.

There’s no more waiting. The Holy breaks in and punches a hole through the sky. Angel choirs and scurrying sheep, and running shepherds, and the cries of a mother in labor; and wails of a new born baby. It’s exhausting.

I want to tell you something that happens to me each year, right here in our sanctuary. Every single time this scripture is read:

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:
and they were sore afraid.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward all people.

Every single time this scripture is read — I have a kind of vision. It’s more of an image in my mind, a picture. An intuition of sorts.

I wonder about the Angel sent from God. I imagine the Angel — and bear with me here — I imagine the Angel and it seems to me the Angel is not what we might expect from the Angels of our Nativity scenes.

The Angel I see, the Angel I imagine, is so massive it can’t be contained in our sanctuary. If we were to blow the roof off this room and look up into the sky, the Angel of the Lord would be so immense, enormous, it would fill the sky to the brim.

And those wings. Those wings, I imagine them larger than a 747 and each time they beat, the wind doesn’t whisper and moan. The angel wings send storm winds over the hills and valleys and the sound is crushing.

To me the sound of Angel voice and beating wings is so thunderous and operatic, there’s such an immense cacophony of chords, I’m not sure how we are supposed to hear Good Tidings of Great Joy. And all the time I’m imaging this, I tell myself:

  • “This makes so much sense. It’s nuts.” And it makes so much sense because:
  • “Why would God send a small angel?”
  • “Why would God send a sweet, small angel for such a soul-crashing message?”
  • “Why would God send a small angel to announce the Savior?”
  • This Angel isn’t small and sweet.
  • This Angel is telling of the Glory of God.
  • This Angel choir isn’t diminutive and sentimental.
  • This Angel Choir’s praise is a booming pandemonium of harmonies. Major and minor chords are bouncing off the stratosphere.

From our small Nativity scenes comes the most enormous story. The Holy breaks in and punches a hole through the sky. Do you hear it? Can you hear it over the din of the angel’s wings? Of course, you can. Because the messenger brings the message for you:

Fear not: for, behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you
is born this day
in the city of David,
a Savior,
which is Christ the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

[i]  Janet Hunt. Sermon: “Stolen Baby Jesus.” Dancingwiththeword.com, December 20, 2012.

[ii] Anais Laurent. “Nativity Scenes Around the World.” nationalgeographic.com, December 16, 2015.

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