Rev. George Miller
Sermon for 12-25-16
Recently we had a wedding at Emmanuel.
It was for a young lady who always dreamt of having the perfect wedding. A traditional wedding, in a church, with a white dress, bridesmaids and the happily ever after.
She wanted it just right, with the white floor runner, flower girls, a Unity Candle, and aisles decorated in ribbons.
But, as anyone can imagine, the striving for a perfect wedding can create a lot of stress, sleepless nights, and sadness.
The days leading up to the wedding she couldn’t sleep; the day of the wedding she ran more than 2 hours late.
In the process, she forgot the Unity Candle, the aisle runner, the ribbons, and one of the flower baskets.
But she didn’t forget her exquisite gown made up of 50 pounds of stunning.
Her bridal party wore blue dresses that complimented our window.
Her wife and her best men stood proud and strong in their Army uniforms.
And their wedding was…beautiful. It was wonderful. Sue played gorgeously, the ring bearer paid attention the whole time and responded on cue, and without a doubt the Holy Spirit was present.
After all, a wedding is not about pomp and circumstance, flower baskets and candles- it’s about the covenant made between 2 people in-front of God and their community.
A wedding is the prelude to the marriage, a lifetime event that is more important than any 20 minute ceremony could possibly be.
During the week of the wedding, as the bride worried about getting everything just right, I found myself thinking about a hero of mine, Stephen Sondheim.
Sondheim is a Broadway composer, having created music for “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” and “Into the Woods.”
Sondheim once shared what the creative process was like for one of his shows, called “Sunday in The Park with George.”
He said that the show was imperfect, that there were things that were flawed that they could not figure out how to fix.
Until they did fix them…but then they discovered with the fixes the show became too perfect, it lost its heart, its edge, its soul.
So they restored the play to its original state, and not only did it prove to be a success, but it won the Pulitzer Prize, a rare feat for a musical.
It was in the imperfections of the play that the beauty and wonder shone through.
I personally feel that the same can be said about our reading today, which is Luke’s telling of the Christmas Story.
It is a story that is beautiful, it is a story that is wonderful, however it is not a story that is perfect.
In fact, it is a story that is very broken, about broken people living during an imperfect time experiencing something brand new.
No, Luke does not tell a story of family perfection, nor is it a story of prestige.
It begins in the midst of political turmoil, in which Caesar decides there is a need to do a census. A census, so that no doubt the people can be taxed and the government leaders can be made richer.
Into this political climate of a census, everyone is to return to their family home.
And there is Joseph, with his fiancée Mary. Though they are not married, she was with child.
The scandal of imperfection is present. For there are words for young ladies who are found in such a state.
Though she is nearing the end of her 9 months, there is no where to stay. Family members of Joseph, for whatever reason, are not willing to relinquish a room, a bed, a corner of the kitchen to the unmarried couple.
For who would allow the shame of an unwed mom-to-be in their home?
At least there is the place where the animals are cared for. That should do. Just watch where you step, and cover your nose.
So far nothing about the Christmas story is perfect or prestigious.
Mary gives birth to her 1st born son, and with no proper place to put him, she makes do with a feeding trough for livestock.
In darkness, in a time of danger, angels appear to shepherds with news of the child’s birth. The shepherds make way to Mary and their pay their honor, they pay their respects.
But there is a part of this story I never noticed until Tuesday, a part of the story I never heard anyone else articulate.
Where was Joseph’s family? Where was his kin?
If Bethlehem was the home of Joseph’s descendents, where were his uncles, his aunties, his 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousins?
Why wasn’t Joseph’s family there?
Did they not know Joseph had come in for the census? Did they not know that his bride-to-be-was pregnant?
Or did they know, and just not…care?
What does it mean to say that the Son of God, the Baby Jesus was born, and he was greeted by working class shepherds, but not by his own kin?
Is that not heartbreaking? Is it not…real?
For anyone here who has had their own share of family issues, for anyone here who may feel alone this Christmas, or neglected by those around you, is it not in some ways affirming that even at his birth Jesus experienced those same things too?
And then, his name- Jesus.
Most people may not realize this, but Jesus was actually a very common name of his day. Jesus was not a unique name at all.
It would be as if he was born in New York and called Tony, or in the South and called Billy Bob, or born in LA and called Trevor.
Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, wasn’t even born with a one-of-a-kind or fascinating name. His name was run of the mill, just like everyone else.
So the birth of Jesus was not a dream. It was not perfect. It was not whole.
His birth was nightmarish. It was imperfect. It was broken.
But here is the thing- just because the birth of Jesus isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
Just because it’s broken, doesn’t mean it’s not wonderful.
In fact, I find the birth of Jesus to be beautifully wonderful, because it is so real, it is so down-to-earth, it is so what we all go through in our own lives.
Like a wedding, the Christmas story is not about candles or bows or flower baskets. It’s about what does the birth mean to us, and where does it lead.
For me, at this time, at this moment- the birth of Jesus means this-
That God so loved us, that God was willing to enter into our lives even if the means was not always easy, even if the going was tough, even if it was a bit smelly, and lonely.
That the God we worship, the God we are willing to believe in, was willing to enter into our lives and experience the same things we do.
Do you feel like you are living in a time of political confusion?
So does God, because that’s the time Jesus was born into.
Do you feel like your identity is not your own and taxes dominate your life? So does Jesus because that’s the situation that set the stage for his birth.
Ever feel like your wandering, or homeless, or without roots? That’s the existence into which our Savior was born.
Ever feel detached from family, friends, or community? Ever wonder why no one is there for you at your time of need?
That’s the brokenness that Joseph, Mary, and their Son experienced together.
But I am Ok with the Christmas story being imperfect.
Think of how exhausting things are when people try to be perfect; when people try to make everything just right, or to make a dream come true.
Trying to have the perfect wedding. Trying to raise the perfect family. Trying to be the perfect wife, the perfect husband, to have the perfect child.
The stress of trying to create the perfect vacation memory, or cook the perfect meal, or host the perfect party.
The stress of removing all mistakes, trying to erase all the blemishes, to cover all the flaws.
Yet it is often the flaws, the blemishes, the mistakes that makes things the most real, the most honest, the most true.
It is often the bumps in the road, the misplaced ingredients, the forgotten items that create the memories, that make the stories memorable, that create opportunities for something new and unexpected.
Just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
Just because it’s broken, doesn’t mean it’s not wonderful.
For though the fields were covered in darkness, angels filled the skies and sang their songs of glory.
Though family was nowhere to be seen, good news comes from the unexpected visit of the shepherds.
Though the future was uncertain, and the past not the best, what this Holy Family had was…NOW.
A mother. A father. A new born babe.
Though the birth was not perfect, what exists in the now is possibilities, promise, and…peace.
Emmanuel, God With Us, is born against the odds.
Emmanuel, God With Us, is gently crying in the night.
Emmanuel, God With Us, has entered into our lives to share our experiences, to celebrate our success, and to console our scars.
The Birth of Jesus may not be perfect, it may be broken, but it is beautiful, and it is wonderful.
For that we can say “Amen.”