Christmas Eve A2016
by Pastor Sarah Stadler
Two thousand years ago, the shepherds who were out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night were visited by an angel who proclaimed the birth of a Savior who laid in a manger in Bethlehem.
In response to this astonishing announcement, 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.” The shepherds actually went and saw. Even though it was ridiculous—an infant savior in the face of imperial Roman power? Even though it was unlikely to be true—for there were many people claiming to be the messiah in those days. Even though the shepherds must have had many questions and doubts: Was that an angel? Why would an angel come to us? Did that really just happen? Even though it made no sense, the shepherds went and saw the baby Jesus lying in the manger.
This year, this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the baby savior Jesus, it’s the shepherds who inspire me. Because despite the ridiculousness of it, despite the unlikeliness of it, despite their questions and doubts, the shepherds went and saw Jesus lying in the manger. And then, they went and told everyone about what they had seen and praised God.
We know more of the Jesus story than the shepherds knew. On this side of history, we know that Jesus grew from an infant into a teenager who, even then, displayed uncommon wisdom and insight into an adult who preached and performed miracles, who fed people and healed them, who created community and restored people to their communities wherever he went. We know that Jesus eventually was betrayed, suffered, died, and rose again from the dead. Yet who among us is completely certain that the testimony of the angel is true? Who among us is so confident in faith that we have shut out all doubt and all questions? None of us, not even me. Our doubts and questions about this news—an infant savior, a king who is vulnerable, a God made flesh—are reasonable questions and doubts. How can this be? But you know what? It’s not only the shepherds who inspire me today/tonight. You inspire me too.
You inspire me because you came here so that you too could see, see the baby savior. You came to hear the news of this savior’s birth, ridiculous, unlikely, doubtful news. You came to see what God can do in this world. Even though you have doubts. Even though you question God. Even though not everything makes sense. You’re still here.
With the devastation of Aleppo and natural disasters aplenty, with fears about the new administration in this country, with illness and death among our families and friends, with the complicated details of paying the rent and holding down a job and raising our children and grandchildren, we have questions for God. We have doubts about God’s goodness and sovereignty. We live with uncertainty. But still, we come. We come to see Jesus.
Maybe you’ve heard me say it before, but I’ll say it again. I have been a pastor for ten years, a religious leader, and still, I wonder at times if what I have committed my life to is indeed the truth. I have a theological education; I have read many a book and written many a paper about the whys and hows of God. And still, I have questions. I see and hear what is going on in our world, in your worlds as I listen to all that you and your families struggle with, and sometimes, I can’t make sense of it. But let me tell you this: when Sunday morning comes, I come here to see Jesus. I come and see Jesus in bread and wine. I come and see Jesus in the Word of God that is read and spoken. I come and see Jesus in acts of service and in the care we provide for one another.
We come to see Jesus in the manger even though we are not sure what this means, that God has come in the flesh.
This past week, I visited someone who is grieving a difficult loss. After church on Sunday, I just showed up at her door because I hadn’t heard from her, and I was worried. As I stood outside on the pavement and waited for her to answer the door, I listened to her cry. Later, after we had discussed all that is going on, I asked what I could do to be helpful. “What you’re doing,” she said. She meant: What you’re doing right now, by being here, is helpful. She said, “The worst thing is being alone.”
I wanted to fix her situation; I wanted to make her loss easier. I wanted to answer her questions; I wanted to make sense of the senseless. But I couldn’t. All I could do—really—was be there with her. And sure enough, that is what she needed most.
On Christmas, this is what God does for us. We will continue to live with the questions, to cry and grieve, to walk through difficult things. God does not magically fix everything. But what God does in Jesus is join us here on earth, is sit with us in our very human situation. We are not alone. No matter where we go or what we do, God is with us. When we come here to this place, together, to hear the Word of God, to share in the Lord’s supper, to make manifest the love of God in word and deed, we are coming to see Jesus. We are hopeful that, despite our doubts and questions, God is present. Not everything will be fixed, but we weren’t really looking for that anyway. We just don’t want to be alone. And the good news of Christmas is that we aren’t alone. In Jesus, God has come to be with us.