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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Christmas Day, December 25, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 2:1–20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, 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.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (NRSV)

I am writing our Christmas devotional while sitting in LaGuardia airport. I have been in a conversation with five other preacher friends who all serve churches similar to Fourth Church. We get together once a year to share ideas and to learn from each other. This year our meeting was in New York, during the holiday season. I have not spent much time in New York, so I soaked up all of the lights, the colors, and the decorations that covered so many of the shops and offices up and down Fifth Avenue. New York City, like our Chicago, is lovely when it’s all dressed up for Christmas!

But as I stood in the middle of all that loud beauty, I found myself struck again by the simplicity and the “ordinariness” of our Christmas birth story. Jesus was born into poverty, surrounded by his small family, and then later celebrated by regular shepherds (not exactly the celebrities of their day!). It was quite a different scene than the one I saw yesterday around the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this year, it is my hope that we might linger at the dissonance between the first Christmas and the ways in which we mark it in our day and time. Perhaps the dissonance might make us a bit uncomfortable, which I always find helpful. After all, the strange, beautiful, and mysterious way that our God has chosen to be God-with-us is so dissonant with and so unlike what I would have chosen or expected. I might have hoped for the loud beauty of Fifth Avenue. Our God chose the outskirts and the margins. Thanks be to God.

Creator of all, I hope I never get too comfortable with the ways in which you constantly upend my expectations of how you ought to be God. I need you to keep surprising me, to keep surprising our world, with your love and with your mercy. Please don’t let me be lulled into complacency, even complacency about your love made flesh at Christmas. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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