Christmas Eve and Morning (December 24 and 25, 2016)

November 28, 2016 | by Bruce Epperly

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Luke 2:1-20 Psalm 98 Titus 2:11-14 & 3:4-7 John 1:1-1


Psalm 98; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20; John 1:1-14

The Christmas scriptures join the local and the global, the gritty and the cosmic, the particular and the universal.

Luke embeds us in the world of economics and politics. Luke’s Christmas story invites us to ponder the messiness of the incarnation from the vantage point of a stable. We can romanticize the birth of Jesus in carols and crèche, but this birth is profoundly earthy, messy, and no doubt uncomfortable for Mary. Mary and Joseph are compelled by oppressive political authorities to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. While biblical prophecy is at work here, so are the machinations of the powers and principalities. Like many political leaders today, those in power could care less about the poor, about who is inconvenienced by their decisions, and about whether or not a random child safely enters into the world. Pomp and circumstance still determine the fate of millions today as rulers look down from their towers, heedless of the pain their decisions cause – or will cause – the earth’s most vulnerable peoples. Not yet refugees – but soon to be – Joseph and his family are totally at the mercy of powers beyond themselves. While we can look for divine providence in the holy family’s journey to Bethlehem, I am sure their sojourn felt anything but providential to them.

For Luke, the revelation of “God with us” in a little child comes to shepherds. Again, we can romanticize the shepherd’s life, but history shows us otherwise. The life of the shepherd was harsh and brutal. Most shepherds watched other peoples’ herds and were paid a first century equivalent of the minimum wage. Most likely uneducated, they were at the lower rungs of the social and economic order. Common knowledge, in the first century, was that shepherds were shiftless and morally suspect.

Yet, the angels come to the marginalized and to a working class family and to subsistence workers working the graveyard shift, both living under the thumb of an oppressive regime. Incarnation may occur in the halls of power and the towers of the wealthy and elite, but in the Christmas story, it occurs among the poorest and most neglected. Revelation can come anywhere, and where you least expect it. Hymns of “Glory to God” ring out among undocumented workers, refugees, disabled coal miners, and single “welfare mothers,” as well as the scions of business potentates. Despite the inconvenience of leaving their posts, the shepherds say “yes” to the angels. Perhaps, they see in the birth of the child an image of hope; the possibility of a new world order; new life ahead and a better life for their children. Perhaps, they are just amazed and want to follow the trail of wonder to Bethlehem. With the author of Psalm 96, they have heard and are ready to sing “a new song.” In the spirit of the Epistle to Titus, they have realized to their amazement that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” As ambiguous morally as they – and we – are, they realized the spirit of Titus, believing now that “God saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.”

John’s Gospel moves us from the local to the cosmic. There are no shepherds, Caesar, magi, stables, or even a mother and father. There isn’t even a baby! John explains the meaning of the incarnation as global in spirit. What Luke finds in the stable, John finds everywhere and in every life. God’s word and wisdom inspires all creation and each person. God’s light gives birth in darkness, germinates the cosmic journey, and overcomes the darkness of human hard-heartedness. God’s word is made flesh in the halls of Congress and in a soup kitchen.

God’s life and light flow through us and all things. God’s light enlightens everyone, regardless of birth, faith, or age. This 13.7 billion year cosmic journey is the gift of divine wisdom, and though the darkness of human sin – personal and political – appear to triumph, the light of Christ in the stable will not be extinguished. God will patiently and persistently bring light to the world.

Many of us see the world plunging into a time of darkness. Nations are turning away from interdependence to selfish solitariness. People want to “Brexit” from their responsibilities to their neighbors and to planetary well-being. Our nation’s future leaders are pondering closing the borders and their hearts to refugees. Some leaders call for registering Muslims just as Caesar sought to register the holy family and the Jewish people. Environmental treaties are at risk and with us the fate of the earth. We need to experience divine light and wisdom. In such a dark time, we need to become light bearers and witnesses to the light, trusting the spiritual arc of God’s love and acting as children of light, inviting all creation to live in God’s healing light.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, United Church of Centerville, MA.( and member of the doctoral faculty of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he is the author of forty books, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed;and A Center in the Cyclone: Twenty-first Century Clergy Self-care. He may be contacted for conversation, speaking engagements and retreats at