An Open Heart, Luke 1-20

Even as we join with Christians all over the world in celebrating Jesus’ birth we might stop and ponder for a moment that his was one of the lowliest and most obscure of births possible.

God didn’t choose to come to earth fully grown and clothed with great power. God did not come to earth as a Caesar of Rome or King of England or President of the United States. No. Instead, God chose to come to earth as one of the most vulnerable of all creatures, a newborn child.

And God chose to not to come to earth in a place of great power like ancient Rome or London in the heyday of the British Empire or New York City in today’s world dominated by financial power. No. Emmanuel—God on earth—came to earth in one of the most backwater of all places, a poor, out-of-the way village in an insignificant province in the Roman Empire.

And what a set of parents our Lord had! His mother was a peasant and an adolescent about 13 years old. In keeping with the overall theme of humility, she hailed from a remote, hardscrabble village.

His father-to-be matched those modest circumstances. He was not really a skilled carpenter but someone more like a carpenter’s apprentice—and one who was reluctant to marry a blushing bride who was already pregnant with a child he did not help to conceive.

It is hard to imagine set of more humble circumstances for someone’s birth. But God was not done in emphasizing the lowliness and poverty of this joining of heaven to earth.

When the labor pains started and the child was ready to come, the small family was in a stable with barnyard animals as witnesses. There was no room for them anywhere else.

And we only think he was placed in a nice little cradle that we refer to as a manger. Mangers went by another name— food trough. God came to earth and was laid. . . in a food trough.

More signs of lowliness and humility were to come.

The first to celebrate the baby’s birth with the happy parents were a group of shepherds. As our Savior would later experience in his life, shepherds often had no real place to lay their heads. By the nature of their work, they had to sleep with their sheep.

And they weren’t appreciated by the good religious folk of the day. You see, it was the rare shepherd who could conform to Jewish law. It was just impractical. After all, it was a must for shepherds to work on the Sabbath, and they also found many of the other 500 or so laws hard to observe out in the wilderness.

Jesus had one of the lowliest, most obscure births ever. It was as if God was making a point. If heaven was going to meet earth, it would be in the most unimaginable way possible. . . part of and among people who had no status, wealth or power, but who instead were the belittled, rejected, reviled, and marginalized of their day.

Can we just ignore these facts? I don’t think so. They seem to add up to something important. After all, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth led to the circumstances of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. They must affect what we think, say and do in our own lives.

Fortunately, the verses tonight do at least hint at a path for us to follow.

The angel made quite an entrance in appearing to the shepherds that night. Luke tells us that the shepherds were living in the fields, keeping watch over the flock by night. Then, he says, the angel stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

The angel said, “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah. . .”

There is one thing about these words that really interested me this year and that might help point the way for us.

It is in that phrase “. . . to you is born this day. . .” Those two words “this day” are really better translated as “today.”

Today. To all is born today. To us is born today. To you is born today. . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke knew what he was doing. He wrote the Greek word for “today.” He wrote a word that is always fresh and new, a word that applies in all times and places and to all people. Today, a savior is born to us.

It has often been noted that God gives God’s own self at Christmas. That happens again today.

May this be a gift that we—that you—accept.

But Jesus’ birth bursts with more meaning. One of them is that the circumstances of his birth shows that God’s heart is open to all people.

As we accept the gift of Christ, may we truly determine to also keep our hearts open to God’s people.


Born for People Like Us, Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25

The splitting of the United Methodist Church continues apace even during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Over 2,000 churches have left the UMC this year. Many more are debating it and others will soon vote on it. By the time the approved disaffiliation process ends in 2023, it is likely that many more thousands of churches will have left.

But far more important than counts of churches leaving or staying are the hundreds of thousands of people who will be directly affected by the split up. The whole event is taking a deep human toll that will only increase as more churches and people debate and vote on the matter.

And this toll is not limited just to those within churches debating and voting on the matter. It includes just about anyone active in the denomination, especially in those states where disaffiliation is widespread. Other Methodists are not just idle observers but very much involved in what has become an increasingly grueling and sometimes brutal debate.  

Help us, Lord, help us!

As the sides have hardened their positions, and those in the middle pick decide whether to “go” or “stay,” pastors are separated from pastors, friends from friends and families from others in their family.

For example, one of those on the “winning” side when the Huntsville (TX) UMC vote was taken lamented how empty the church felt the following Sunday and tearfully added that was a small thing compared to the friendships that were ruptured.

Similarly, one UMC megachurch pastor in North Carolina found himself on the receiving end of a hostile email from a friend and colleague in another state. The writer essentially accused him of abandoning our historic faith.

The pain of these two people is being multiplied by thousands across the nation.

Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy.

So it is that a good number of Methodists on either side of the vote find this Christmas to be a time of grief and mourning instead of joyful anticipation and celebration.

I am one of those, a liberal who has found a church but who grieves as my storied but flawed denomination breaks apart.

Like many others, I also am saddened by our widespread inability to deal in a godly manner with the serious issues that have been involved.

In the end, we jointly have more resembled Democrats and Republicans engaged in an ugly, drain out campaign instead of the Body of Christ called to renew and transform the world.

Lord, forgive us for we know not what we do.

A Prayer for Redemption:

Good and gracious God, we need a redeemer. This year, open our hearts and minds and eyes and ears to the beauty, wonder and joy of the season.

Move us to relish Mary saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Lead us to marvel when Joseph wakes up and then follows the dream.

And when the baby comes, may we fall to our knees in worship, wonder and praise.

Lord who saves, come and save us.