Jesus Christ: A Witness to Wonder (When God Comes Down series, James A. Harnish)
A few weeks ago when we were decorating this sanctuary for Advent, we began to take the nativity pieces out of boxes and realized that baby Jesus was nowhere to be found. We had lost him! We checked all of the boxes and in drawers and closets, but still no baby Jesus. Finally, about half an hour later, Margrit Figg came into my office and proclaimed, “We found him! He was in a box of some Christmas junk that we found. Not sure how he got there!” We laughed and rejoiced in finding baby Jesus, and of course, tonight is when we rejoice that he is in the manger- not lost, but found. I’m glad that we didn’t actually lose baby Jesus. That would make for a very sad Christmas Eve!
But the fact that we actually did lose Jesus for a while got me thinking about the Christmas story and how God comes to us on this holy night. Because the reality is that we live in a broken world where Jesus has been lost, forgotten about, or looked over. We live in a world where people are no longer seeking him or have forgotten about him in the junk or stuff that fills our lives. We live in a world where we may need to sort through our boxes of junk in order to find him there, waiting. But we also have a faith that says that he has really been seeking us all along, waiting to be found, longing to be discovered in the middle of it all.
We began our Advent journey weeks ago by either shouting or whispering these words from the prophet Isaiah: “if only you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Or, “why don’t you get real, God? Why don’t you come down here and do something about the mess we’ve made of things?” We look around our world and see people who are hurting. We see violence, tragedy, oppression, war, disease, and sometimes pure evil. We call out to God and speak these words, longing for signs of hope and peace. Longing for God to make himself known among us. And it is the Christmas story that we turn to for hope in God’s presence to be revealed. It is in this story that we discover that God comes to us in the midst of brokenness, heartache, sadness, and longing.
And the question of every pastor, myself included, on this night is, “what shall I say?” Most everyone knows the Christmas story, and it is so simple that even a child could tell it. But yet it is so complex and filled with wonder that sometimes it’s difficult to find the language to explain it or tell it at all. If you have children in your life, chances are you have seen at least one Christmas pageant or play this season. And you know that trying to organize children can sometimes be like herding cats!
Pastor Jim Harnish tells a story of going to see his three year old grandson in the nativity play. It was obvious that night that the teachers were ready for the Christmas break and trying their best to keep things organized. But the of course, children were still roaming around, halos were coming loose, and cardboard crowns from Burger King were slipping down around the wise men’s faces. The girl who played Mary was supposed to be standing beside the manger in prayerful adoration as the narrator read the story. But she noticed that the blanket around the baby doll had come undone. So she did what any mother would do- she held the baby carefully in one arm while carefully spreading the blanket from the manger out on the floor and gently laid the baby down to wrap the blanket around it. Then she picked up the baby, placed him over her shoulder, patted his back, and rocked him there while the rest of the children sang. From a preschool Mary, the audience saw that the baby might as well have been the real one…born in flesh and blood and in need of a good burping in Bethlehem! (43)
Then, the audience turned their attention to the five year old girl playing the angel who announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. Most of the parents in the audience that night knew that her father and uncle had just been killed in a horrible car accident months before. People had a hard time keeping their tears in as they heard her shout with all the energy she could muster for a child who had just lost her father, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
It is in moments like these that we realize how real and important the story of Christmas is. That the good news of great joy is proclaimed in a world where children sometimes lose their fathers, where unspeakable tragedies happen- where parents lose their jobs, where families sometimes lose their homes. On Christmas, we are reminded that “the angels sing of peace on earth and goodwill to all” in a world where innocent people are killed, where violence, disease, and terrorism threaten to take over our world…” We are reminded that “God comes down in flesh into a world where love still gets nailed to the cross. The Savior is born into a world where every last one of us is like those lost, confused, disoriented shepherds who are in desperate need of a Savior” (43).
Yes, our world today is still seeking a lost Jesus. Yes, our world is still in need of a Savior. Yes, our world is still desperately in need of hope, joy, and peace. And that is why we seek Jesus still today in our messy lives, in our boxes full of junk, in our hearts that have become closed to the mystery and wonder that is faith. It doesn’t matter how many times we hear the Christmas story, or how we hear it- whether it is through church, Bible study, or through the eyes and voices of children. We still need to hear it and let it penetrate our very lives. “Because the good news of the gospel is not that Jesus came to show us the way to climb up to God, but that God came down to us, descending into the real stuff of our real lives- God with us in Jesus Christ” (44).
The Christmas story is about Jesus Christ: a witness to wonder. We are to celebrate that God comes down to us, becomes one of us….that we may live like him. We can’t just hear this story once more just like every year and walk away unaffected and unmoved. We are challenged to do something about it. The shepherds came and gazed upon Jesus Christ, a witness to wonder, and then they did something about it. So, too, we stand here tonight as witnesses to the wonders that God has done and will do through Jesus. Let’s not keep it to ourselves, but be witnesses to love in this world that is so desperately in need. Jesus comes that we might see and know the ways of reconciling love, relentless hope, and endless joy. Jesus comes to save us from violence by showing us the way of peace. Jesus comes to give us messages of hope in a lost and hurting world. That is the good news we proclaim with great joy tonight, even as the world around us seems to crumble beneath our feet, even as our hearts might be breaking, even as our lives sometimes feel scattered and disorganized. We find Jesus in the midst of it all, waiting for us to discover him.
My hope for you is that you do find Jesus this Christmas- that you find him in the boxes of junk that you might have sitting around in your life- that you will not forget about him or pass him over either because you just don’t see him or don’t want to see him. My hope for you is that you will discover him once again as a witness to wonder, and that you will proclaim the good news of great joy…yes, even in this world overrun with grief, violence, terror, and longing. There are people out there who need to hear it now more than ever. Will you be the one to tell it? Amen.