December 24, 2015, Christmas Eve // Home for Christmas // Sara Wolbrecht // Luke 2:1-18
Thank you, Dani, for reading, and to our musicians for leading us in fabulous carols as hear and sing through the story of Jesus’ birth.
To get us started with the sermon, we need to sing one more song. Sing it with me, friends, with as much soul, cheesiness and feeling as you can muster:
I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
Bravo! Christmas: no other time quite stirs up in us what it means to be home. This song even names how even if we can’t be in the place that we call home, we will be there if only in our dreams. Friends, tonight, on this holy night when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we’re going to explore what it means to be home.
To start, a question for us: where are the places you have called home? The particular buildings you’ve lived in – growing up, and then moving out to go to work or school, the crummy apartments or dorm rooms. My husband Jason and I spent our first year of marriage in a 420sq ft apartment in Berkeley, CA. Memorable. Where have you lived? …And interestingly, even places we haven’t actually lived can feel like home – like the home of our best friend, our church, or a place we return to for vacation, a favorite hiking trail, a coffee shop – that can be home for us.
So I wonder: what makes a place home for us? (It isn’t just that we’ve lived there). I think the simple answer comes back to a well-known, sentiment: Home is Where Your Heart Is. Yes, it has that sappy, cliché warm-fuzzy feel to it, my friends. But cliché’s become cliché’s because they are overused. And things get overused, usually, because they are actually in fact true.
And I think this one is true: that home is where our heart is. And I want to suggest that our heart remains in places we call home because our story has been written there. We have become who we are there. We have been formed by the people and life lived there. And so they drip with memories that give us meaning and grounding and belonging that we tap into in those places. Home is where our heart is, and also, then, where we live our stories.
Tonight, then, this particular Christmas Eve night, having just sung all the good Christmas carols, and having just walked with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and been wowed with the shepherds by the sight of a multitude of angels, and to have made it all the way to the manger again, to see yes, here is the one they call Jesus – I want to suggest that this story, Jesus’ birth, the Christmas story is a story of coming home.
The gospel of John chapter 1, actually says it just that way. John describes Jesus’ birth, like this: “The Word became flesh and made his home among us…” John 1:14. The Word, Jesus, made his home among us. John says that this here, this world, this is a place God calls home.
The video we began with - Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, with all those paintings, taps us into that – into God’s story lived out throughout the centuries. This is God’s story being lived out here in this place for this is the place God calls home. And that before we ever get to the manger, there was a lot of life and story lived. For thousands of years, God’s people awaited a time when God would come to them.
But do you notice, that God’s story, those moments we saw painted for us – they are pictures of people. Yes, we see these incredible people: Abraham! Joseph! Jonah! We see like the biblical all-star team. But really, just normal people. People like Moses whose first response to God when God spoke to him in the burning bush and told him to head back to Egypt, Moses said: Who am I? Who am I to do these things? And David, who yes, slayed a giant-like man and became a king, beloved of God – yet who also seduced another man’s wife and had that man killed. Biblical all-stars? Yet also normal, imperfect people. This is God’s story.
So as we find ourselves at the manger again tonight, with God making a home here among us, we name that the story of God, what got everything to this point where Jesus could be born among us, God’s story is the story of God working through ordinary people, doing what they normally do, who are willing to say yes. And in their yes to God, their story becomes part of the story of God.
And, my friends, the story of God certainly doesn’t stop at the manger. The story of God continues as it always has, with God working through ordinary people, doing what they normally do, who are willing to say yes to God. My friends, the radical invitation of Christmas, of the incarnation, of Jesus come to us as one of us, is this: to dare to let God find a home here in our stories. To let our story become God’s story. To not just stand at the manger like a part of an audience and think it’s pretty cool. But to actually step into the story. To say yes.
And it is crazy to say yes to God. For Moses to stand up against Pharaoh. For Abraham and Sarah to leave the land and people that had been theirs for generations. For shepherds to go looking for a baby in a manger. For Joseph to stick with his pregnant fiancé in a culture where a woman should be stoned to death for having sex outside of marriage.
Crazy, and yet. This is the story of God, this is the beautiful and authentic and dangerous story of God. We won’t pretend it’s an easy life. Letting God find a home in us doesn’t mean we’re free from suffering. But the life of God, to give our yeses to God is the best story we could possibly live. Hands down. Because it is a yes to a life of living the story of Jesus.
The story of Jesus, as this baby in the manger grows, his life will demonstrate what the Kingdom of God is like – he’ll show us that the story of God is one of healing, of generosity, of justice, of loving the stranger, of making room at the table for all when you eat, of housing the homeless, of love and grace and forgiveness, of living beyond ourselves and pouring out our life for the sake of others even unto death. This is the story that Jesus will live – and this is the story we’re invited into as we stand at the manger. A life that is ours, for God has made a home here among us.
And the yes we say is not just a one-time yes. It is a daily, lived out, in the grind, enfleshed in the details of our relationships and work and grocery shopping and eating. It is a story found in the ongoing opportunities to live in the dynamic relationship of a God who is with us. The yes we said last year, last month, is different than what God is inviting us into tonight.
One of the beautiful realities is that as a community of people who are trying to say yes to God together, we get to do it, together. And say our yeses together. Like for us at Salt House, four weeks ago said the crazy unanimous yes to move forward with housing a day-shelter for homeless families in our 3000 sq ft basement. That’s crazy. We’re too new of a community to do something crazy like that, right? But this is what God does - working through ordinary people, doing what they normally do, who are willing to say yes to God. This is God making a home here among us, and I love that this is the story of God we’re living together. How might you be a part of THIS story?
And so my friends, together, this holy night we consider our lives, our stories, and we ask: What is the story we are living now? Who are we becoming? And what yes is God inviting us to speak tonight?
To help us hold these questions, we turn toward the messy reality of Mary’s story in a 5 minute video – it is a song, “Be Born in Me,” by Francesca Battistelli. A song sung from Mary’s perspective – what it was like for her to say that craziest yes in history – for her story to become God’s story to the point of becoming the mother of the Son of God. Completely nuts. And also, breathtakingly beautiful and messy.
As we watch, listen to the words that you can, and hold this question: how might I say yes to God’s story tonight? Let’s watch.
Video: Be Born in Me (Mary), Francesca Battisteli
Let’s pray: God, thank you for Christmas – for coming home to us and to all people. For you make it possible for us to live the best possible story, with you. This holy night we ask that you would cause us to make room in ourselves for you – that you would be born in us. That like Mary our hearts would become your Bethlehem this night. That as we gather in our homes tonight and tomorrow that we’d experience coming home to you with those with whom we gather.
And that in our everyday running around lives we would see and respond to the wild opportunities to say yes to you – whether that’s making a move to forgive someone, or to live differently with our finances, or to seek the support or counseling we need, or to make a commitment to this communality or another community, or to make change in our relationships or work, or a yes in response to the Syrian refugee crisis or the other suffering we see in the world. Help us to hear you this night and as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, so that in our yeses, your Kingdom, your love and life and light may reach into the places where you are needed most desperately, in us and in our world. And so that we, may live Jesus’ story together. This night, and always. Amen.