Christmas Eve C2018
Luke 2:1-20, Isaiah 9:2-7
by Pastor Sarah Stadler
The ancient story of Jesus’ birth is full to the brim with unexpected twists and turns. A virgin who gives birth. A young man who defies shame. Shepherds visited by heavenly messengers. Good news of great joy: the birth of a savior, the birth of god incarnate. And angels, angels who proclaim: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom God favors.
This ancient story of Jesus’ birth, a story of love and light, joy and peace, is not the preeminent story—of our culture or of any culture of any time. We know deep in our bones the steadfastness of violence, the hurts of injustice, the tenacity of fear and hatred. The longer I live, the more deeply aware I become of the hurts of the world, the hurts not only of people I know and love but of people who live in distant places, people who lived in distant ages. And because we never really healed the violence and injustice, fear and hatred of ages past, we continue to live steeped in it, just as the people of Jesus’ time lived steeped in violence.
And what surprises me, what delights me, what brings me hope tonight is that, even though every single person in the ancient story of Jesus’ birth and every single one of us is steeped in violence and injustice, fear and hatred, the angels proclaim: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth, peace!
The angels proclaim peace. Even though Israel was occupied. Even though Mary and Joseph were outcast. Even though downtrodden shepherds were the only ones to visit. The angels proclaim peace. Even though we live in a world at war, a world of hunger and poverty. Even though Democrats and Republicans can barely work together in Congress. Even though we struggle to forgive our families, not to mention our enemies. The angels proclaim peace. How?
We’ve likely all heard the adage that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of love. And on this night that we remember the angels’ message of “on earth, peace,” I invite you, implore you to believe that peace is possible.
This last week, someone sat down in my office and told me a story about her family, about manipulation and passive-aggressiveness, about pity and abuse of power. She cried and told me about how she felt disrespected and hurt, and we discussed how her family members likely had no idea how hurtful and unhealthy their behavior was. And then, with tears still streaming down her cheeks, she spoke of persistently setting boundaries, of trying again and again. She spoke of the gifts her family could bring to her. She spoke of valuing her family relationships, spoke of understanding their own hurts, spoke of forgiving them. And suddenly, I saw that peace is possible not because she fixed the situation but because she loves her family, actually loves them in word and deed.
I’ve been here at Grace eight years, and I remember the first time I watched someone punch another person on the church property. We were at GLOW on Wednesday evening, and I was sharing announcements prior to leading table grace and dismissing tables. Directly to my left near the serving table in Hope Hall, some aggressive yelling led to a punch right across the face of one man followed by a punch in return. I didn’t have to break up fights in my previous call in small town Iowa, ☺ so, I wasn’t completely sure what to do. I watched as others more experienced in the ways of the world than I pulled these two men apart and ordered the one who started it out of the building and told him not to come back. Over the years, we’ve figured out together that really listening to people, compassion for people’s circumstances, clear boundaries, respectful communication at all times regardless of what people have done, and covenants with individuals who are struggling are ways we end violence here at church. How many times have I sat with someone at the table in my office to discuss an incident of violence to find out that the person was hurting? That love and compassion were actually what they were seeking? How many times have I asked: What’s going on? And heard people respond: Well, growing up, my dad hit me… Peace is possible when we love one another.
Even I, like most of us, have people in my life who push my buttons. There is one person who tells me she loves me but simultaneously does something very unloving. For sure, I have spent more hours than I care to admit moaning and grumbling and crying about the unfairness of this situation, making myself out to be the victim, retaliating inwardly. But after months, nay, years of trying to figure out why she does what she does and constructing elaborate plans to fix her, I suddenly realized just a week ago that the question I really need to ask myself is: How can I love her? And now, everything is changed. She does not need to do something or be someone different. She does not need to love me back the way I want her to. What she chooses to do really has no impact on what I choose to do. I can love her just as she is. Maybe she’ll never change, but I suddenly learned that peace in our relationship is possible by me choosing to love her.
We who live steeped in violence and injustice, fear and hatred, tonight, we hear the angels proclaim: on earth, peace. Peace is possible. On Christmas, God initiates a new way of relating to the world. Instead of retaliation, instead of exercising power and might, God comes into the world as a vulnerable child. God steps into a world broken by violence and injustice, fear and hatred and offers Godself as a gift of love. For now, Jesus is a baby, but he will grow up to teach and preach, heal and forgive, befriend and love like no one else ever had or ever will. We who follow him, we who follow an infant messiah, we who follow a God made vulnerable, we receive the love of God on Christmas, a love that reshapes our world. On earth, peace, the angels sing. Because of God’s love incarnate, peace is possible. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Amen.