When was the last time you felt amazed? When was the last time your heart was so filled with joy that you began to glorify and praise God? This is the way Luke ends his story of the birth of Jesus. I’m fairly certain we would all like to feel this way tonight. We would all like the birth of this baby to transform us, just like it transformed the shepherds in the story. They made an emotional journey from fear and terror to amazement and joy.
This kind of emotional journey is something many people find difficult to do these days. There are a lot of things that make us fearful. Every day brings a new story of suffering and sadness in our world, some of it is natural, a lot of it is human-made. I don’t need to recite the long list of things that make us feel anxious and afraid, because you know it well.
I suspect you’ve come here to encounter a different set of emotions. I suspect you’ve come here to experience a moment of peace, a smidgen of joy, a handful of hope. But that’s not always an easy thing to do. You might be feeling like this Christmas is full of fear and sadness, instead of amazement and joy. The question you may be asking is how did the shepherds make the emotional journey from fear to amazement, from terror to joy? What can we learn from the Christmas story that will help us to make this journey too?
Several weeks ago, Gary and I spent two weeks in Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. Prior to this trip, I was feeling downlight exhausted. I recently made the decision to quit my job as a chaplain at Mission hospital. 10 years of trauma ministry had taken a toll on me. I felt like God was calling me to create space in my life to rest and recharge my batteries.
While in Europe I saw some pretty amazing things. But what filled my soul the most, what helped me to recover my joy, came in the form of simple things: Seeing new places in the company of dear friends. Soaking in the festive spirit of the Christmas markets that were in every city we visited. Gazing in wonder at the sight of the rugged Italian alps. Eating the perfect dish of pasta in the city of Milan. Singing Christmas carols in German with Germans in the town square. Sipping a superb glass of white wine from the hills that surround Zurich.
These were the kinds of things that filled my heart with gratitude and helped my spirit to recover its joy. On that trip, I intentionally left my cell phone behind. My exposure to the 24 hour news cycle of fear and woe was limited. It allowed me to enter more deeply into every experience on the trip. I was not distracted by the worries of the world and the political wranglings of Washington DC. Instead I could focus on what was good, delightful and delicious. I could savor the simple pleasures of life in a way I had not done so in a very long time.
This experience of finding joy in the simple things of life, got me thinking about the Christmas story. God could have chosen to come to us in any form imaginable. God could have revealed the face of the Divine in spectacular acts of nature, with lots of special effects that would wow and dazzle us. God could have shown us Divine power with miraculous signs and wonders. Instead, God chose to take on human form. And not only human form, but the form of a baby, a helpless infant who had to depend on the nurture and care of Joseph and Mary.
This is an absolute stroke of brilliance. Everyone can relate to a baby. We can hold it and love it. We can behold the wonder of new life and new possibilities. Perhaps God chose to come to us in this form to remind us that when the world around us causes us to be anxious and afraid, we will find God’s presence in simple things. No matter how chaotic or difficult our lives become, love, joy and peace are closer to us than we can possibly imagine.
This is the new lesson I learned this year from my time in Europe. I see it being played out in the story of the birth of Jesus. In the midst of oppressive governmental powers that used excessive force to control the lives of the working class; in the midst of a city who could not offer hospitality to two weary travelers unless they came with a bag full of cash; a road weary and exhausted Joseph and Mary turned a stable into a maternity ward. They improvised a bed from a feeding trough, used hay for a mattress, and swaddled baby Jesus in bands of cloth.
This is not the beautiful scene portrayed in children’s Christmas parents with cute bath-robed shepherds, and cotton ball sheep. This is a desperate situation with a husband and wife feeling like failures because they could not provide a better place for their baby to be born. But in the midst of this desperate and difficult situation, the Son of God made his presence known. Joy accompanied his arrival as amazed shepherds glorified and praised God. Luke tells us that Marty pondered these things in her heart, which I take to mean she was able to carve out a little joy for herself in the midst of a desperate situation.
Friends in Christ, this Christmas Eve it is my hope and prayer that you will find joy in the simple things of life. Spend time in the company of dear friends. Soaking in the festive spirit of our worship tonight. Gaze in wonder at the beautiful mountains which many of us in this church call home. Eat lots of delicious food in the coming week. Sing Christmas carols with as much gusto as you can muster. Sip a superb glass of white wine or gourmet hot cocoa is that’s more your speed.
There is much in this world that is beautiful and wonderful and good. Let focus on these things this holiday season as we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God with us, who calls us to find our joy in the simple things life offers us. Merry Christmas and Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck