Sermon: Because of Bethlehem: Peace In The Interruptions
Scripture: Luke 2:8-16
Date: December 24, 2017
For just a few minutes here I want us to continue thinking about what and who we are today, centuries later, because of Bethlehem.
Now those who know me will not be surprised when I confess that I am a person who likes regular routines. At least in my head, everything I do needs to have a time and place. And the older I get the more tied to my routine I become and the less tolerant of interruptions I am. Christmas has always been a season of routine for me. Consider the Christmas tree for instance. I remember the year that the interruption of my family’s Christmas routine threw my whole world into chaos and almost led to the cancellation of Christmas in the Girard home. Now let me explain. When I was a kid, my family always had a live Christmas tree. Now most years the live tree was provided by my grandfather who lived in Colorado. About the first of December he would wake up one morning and say to my grandmother, “Pack a suitcase. We’re going to the mountains to cut a tree and taking it to the kids.” And so dutifully my Grandmother would pack a bag (she didn’t have to pack much because he wouldn’t stay more than a night or two) and get in the station wagon and they would head to their property in the mountains and cut a beautiful tree and strap it to the top of the car and head for our house. Most of the time we wouldn’t know they were coming, or if they were bringing a tree that year at all. They would just show up and stay long enough to put the tree in the stand and set it up in the house where my mother directed and if we were lucky stay a couple of days and then head back to Colorado. We always had the freshest, prettiest tree in the neighborhood. But then came the year that our routine was interrupted and instead of my grandparents coming to us, my parents decided that we were going to Colorado for Christmas to celebrate my grandparents 50th Wedding Anniversary. And I hesitate to admit it, but I threw a fit. It just wouldn’t seem like Christmas if we weren’t home on Christmas Day. When would we open presents? And what about the Christmas tree? Had they thought about that? If my grandfather wasn’t going to bring a live tree, what were we going to do? And then I heard it. Not only had the Christmas routine been interrupted but it was about to tumble into total chaos. My Mom said: “We’re not going to take our presents with us. We’ll celebrate when we get back and we have decided to buy an artificial tree this year.” She might as well have said that there wasn’t going to be a Christmas at all. And I responded, “then I’m not going. I’ll just stay here and celebrate Christmas as we always do.” Well I spent the month of December grousing and grumbling about Christmas being interrupted. I even refused to help my parents put up the artificial tree. It was the most egregious interruption of the Christmas routine I had ever experienced. But I ended up going, of course. And it was the most miserable Christmas I had ever experienced. And on the day after Christmas we got up early and rushed to the airport to fly home so we could celebrate Christmas on the 27th around that ugly fake tree. What I didn’t know then was that the Christmas routines were never going to be the same again. That summer my grandfather died and that ugly artificial tree became a permanent part of our Christmas celebration. In the more than forty years since that chaotic Christmas I learned a very important lesson that year. And that is that Christmas most often comes with interruptions. Marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, families separated by miles and the need to celebrate with in laws, births, deaths and illnesses, all these things interrupt our routine. There was the year that my mom insisted that we go ahead and have Christmas, even though my father was in the hospital – because she correctly surmised that he was not going to make it home to celebrate with us again. He passed away the next week. That was the greatest interruption of all. Some of you are dealing with that kind of interruption this year.
Max Lucado writes that Christmas is a season of interruptions. And I think he is right. Some of the interruptions we really like. We are glad to interrupt our diets to enjoy all the Christmas Cookies and other goodies that are so much a part of our celebrations. And we are glad for the interruption of beautiful Christmas cards in addition to all the junk mail we usually receive. And the beautiful lights in the midst of the darkest time of the year. But some interruptions aren’t so welcome are they? Some interruptions seek to take away all of the joy, the beauty of this season. But you see Christmas was intended as an interruption. God looked and saw a world that was spiraling out of control and how far humanity had drifted towards inhumanity and decided that the time was right to interrupt our drift towards destruction, to interrupt our world, and so Because of Bethlehem: Eternity redefined time and divinity came to humanity and Heaven interrupted human history in the person of a baby. And everything changed. Because of Bethlehem we have the assurance that God isn’t finished with His creation yet. And that just as He was 2000 years ago, God continues in the business of interrupting lives. Because of Bethlehem God interrupts our darkness with light and our despair with hope and our death with life.
You see all of us experience interruptions in our lives. In fact, interruptions are really one of the constants of our life on this earth. We can’t live a life without them. Illnesses, death, change in jobs, babies, trials of all kinds. They come to all of us. Think about the interruptions you have experienced just this year? The truth is that often the biggest interruption of our life, is life itself. You see, it’s not whether we will experience interruptions that defines our life on this earth, it’s how we respond to those interruptions when they come, that makes all the difference.
So, Luke tells us that the Shepherds were the first to have their lives interrupted by the baby Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem. You see, perhaps more than most, Shepherds hated interruptions. They loved sameness and routine and so did the sheep they cared for. Sheep always want to travel the same road. And the
Shepherd’s whole life revolved around sheep. Now there is a reason that we count sheep when we can’t sleep. Sheep are boring and anything that interrupted their sedentary life was a threat to the well being of the sheep as well as that of the shepherd’s own well being. The shepherds feared any interruptions because that always meant trouble. Imagine living an existence where a great night was one in which absolutely nothing happened, night after night after night.
And so when the Angel interrupted their sameness and routine, they did not welcome it. They did not react with joy or thanksgiving. No they were terrified, not just of the angels, but of the change that they represented. You see, interruptions almost always lead to change and most of us fear change more than we do continuing even in the most difficult circumstances of our lives. The interruption of the Angel represented change to them and even though their life was mostly hard and miserable, that of an outcast, the Shepherds feared change. And so the Angel says, Don’t be afraid. It is a common theme in the Christmas story. Gabriel comes to Mary and the first thing He says is: Don’t be afraid. The Angel appears to Joseph and says “Don’t be afraid?” Three times in the Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ birth the Angels recognize the fear that their interruption will bring and say: Don’t be afraid. Don’t fear this interruption. And remember if something is repeated three times in scripture it doesn’t mean just three times. It means continually. God speaks continually these words of assurance when the interruptions come in our lives. Don’t be afraid. Don’t live your life in fear of what may happen or has happened. Now, that doesn’t mean that all the interruptions that come to us are bad, but what it does mean is that God can use all of the interruptions of our life for our good and His glory. “Don’t be afraid” speaks to the assurance that the Apostle Paul gives voice to when he writes to the Roman church in the midst of chaos and persecution that Because of Bethlehem “all things will be worked for our good for those who love God.” Max Lucado writes that interruptions bring change and that “change always brings fear before it brings faith.” The Angels words “do not be afraid” tells us that because of Bethlehem we no longer need to live lives of fear” because our lives have been interrupted by the promise of God with us no matter what changes may come. Because of Bethlehem we move from fear to faith. Look at how the Shepherds respond to the Angel’s words. They move from panic to praise to proclamation. May that be our Christmas journey. That no matter what life brings us we should not panic. Let us go to Bethlehem and praise this child that has been born for us, that has interrupted our world and changed us forever.
And then we learn that Because of Bethlehem the interruptions of our lives become opportunities. And that which threatens to defeat us is swallowed up by the victory of new life. Jesus’s and ours. Our hope comes in the interruptions and changes, not in place of them. Because God is making all things right and so no longer do we need to live in fear and despair because God has interrupted our life with the hope of salvation. He does not come in place of life, but in the midst of life. Because of Bethlehem – do not be afraid when the interruptions come.
And finally we learn from the Shepherds that Because of Bethlehem we can experience peace in the midst of our interruptions. Our world is in chaos. Everywhere we look we are at war – nations as well as individuals. Our government is deeply divided. We are struggling at this business of civilization, of being civil to one another. We see this on the nightly news, but also in the way we treat one another in all areas of life. Well this is not unique to our era of history. The world into which Jesus came was much the same as our world. The people thought the Messiah would come and replace the chaos with peace, but instead He came to offer each one of us the peace of God in the midst of the chaos. The promise of God with us no matter what interruptions might come. His peace comes from the assurance of God with us. Because of Bethlehem the interruptions we experience in this world need no longer bring fear and chaos, but rather faith and hope and peace no matter what. So don’t be afraid – for to us is born this day a Savior who is Jesus Christ. And we shall call Him Emmanuel – God with us. And Because of Bethlehem the interruptions that confront us today, whatever they may be, can become the ground of our hope and the source of our peace today and forever. Because in Bethlehem Jesus is born – mighty counselor, everlasting God, Prince of Peace.
So, this Christmas, let us go to Bethlehem and find the peace of God in the Baby that was born there. Don’t be afraid – no matter what may come – because a child has been born and He shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us. And Because of Bethlehem – peace has come to us, forever and ever. And with the Angels let us sing: Glory to God in the Heavens, and on earth, Peace and Good will towards all people.
Oh Lord, as it was so long ago in Bethlehem, may it be today in our hearts and lives. Come Lord Jesus. Come Emmanuel. Amen.