Christmas Eve sermon

Luke 2:1-20

She survived by covering herself with a mattress in the bathroom in the middle of the house. Last night I called a dear friend of Catherine’s, to ask her to tell me about a harrowing experience she went through. Her name is Paule Brie, and on her 40th birthday, she survived Hurricane Iniki, a category 5 hurricane, on the Garden Island of Kauai, Hawaii.

Paule is really identifying with the people of the island of Puerto Rico this year, remembering what it was like to go through the storm and what it was like to be without water and electricity on a hot island where all the plants and all the amenities of life are gone. To tell the truth, I was calling her to get a sermon example for tonight. I had a particular sermon example in mind.

To get the sermon example I wanted, I asked her about the eye of the storm. How was it in the eye of the storm, after the first part of the hurricane hit, wasn’t it a great relief to have that lull? I wanted her to tell me for that moment, all was calm and all was bright. I wanted to tell you about the eye of the storm and talk about how we in this sanctuary tonight are in a similar peaceful kind of place, in the midst of the particular storms in each of our lives.

So I asked Paule how it was in the eye of Hurricane Iniki. Did you have that feeling that all was calm and all was bright? And she said, “Uh, yeah – No.”

She said, “Listen, David, if you know anything about hurricanes, you know that after you get through the first part of the hurricane, the second part comes around from the other way, and because it’s blowing the exact opposite of the first half, it does even more damage than before. The eye of the hurricane didn’t go right over us, so we only had a few minutes to catch our breath before the next 3 hours of storm. After we came out, I could hardly talk for nearly 2 weeks.” This was not the “all is calm, all is bright” story I was looking for.

 

When I looked back at the story of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, I realized that the eye of the storm didn’t last that long for the holy family either. The story is full of trouble and difficulty from the beginning as they get rather disturbing messages that Mary is going to be ‘overshadowed’ by the Holy Spirit and she will get pregnant – but Joseph shouldn’t worry about any of that. And then they have to travel to Bethlehem because of an oppressive Roman imperial census, and they get there and there’s no room for them in the upper room…. excuse I have to take a slight detour here to explain -  the word that we usually translate “inn” as there is no room for them in the inn, is the same word that is translated elsewhere “upper room.”

The upper room was the guest room, like a shack on the roof – in a house where most people stayed on the first floor – a kind of ledge built up from the lower level where the animals were brought in to provide some warmth during the night.

There was no room for them in the upper room, – where guests would usually be invited, so they had to stay down with the animals. So Jesus was born lowly, but not lonely, laid in a feeding trough. There were other creatures around. Not really very calm and bright, really.

 

In Luke’s version of the story there were no kings with gifts, no frankincense, no gold, no myrrh -  just ordinary old shepherds. There were just shepherds told that they would get a sign. And your ears might perk up at least at that. There will be a sign – some kind of miracle or wondrous occurrence or talking animal. But no this will be the sign – you will find a baby in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, a feeding trough, lowly, but not lonely.

And when we hear that there was no room in the inn for the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and we find out that the word for inn is the same as for upper room, the upper room -where later a meal would happen on the night before Jesus was betrayed and killed – that was certainly a reminder of worse storms to come. There were much worse storms to come.

I kind of had to talk to God about these storms and the trouble that our babies face. And God said something similar to what Paule said to me. God said, “Listen David, if you know anything about babies, you know that they bring their own storms – and their own wonder, their own awesome peace in the middle of the storm. It’s rarely all calm and bright. I can’t keep you from the trouble you make. But the baby is always a sign, a sign of new life and new love.”

 

Paule finished telling me her story about Hurricane Iniki and told me how her heart aches for the people of Puerto Rico right now. And almost as an afterthought she said, “You know, David. The fruit trees around our house – the grapefruit tree and the lime tree. They seemed to know the storm was coming. They dropped all their fruit and all their leaves before the winds hit.

And after the storm, both on Kauai and in Puerto Rico – people came with trucks and saws and they were ready to cut down these empty, dead trunks sticking out of the wasteland. But when they looked closely, they saw that the branches on the trunks had buds on them. They all had buds just a couple of days later and they came back stronger and better than ever.

 

In the middle of the storms of our lives, even knowing that there will be storms to come, sometimes even worse storms to come – in the middle of those storms, we receive a sign. It probably won’t be miracles or kings. It may be a brief respite of calm in the eye of the storm. It may be new life growing on a leafless, lifeless trunk. It may be the cry of a baby and the promise of a voice for peace, a voice for fairness in the middle of the storm.

Tonight we celebrate God’s promise – in this place of calmness in the middle of the storms of our lives. Tonight we celebrate God’s promise that we are not alone, that there is love being born – even in difficult times, a love bigger than we can fully comprehend incarnated into our world. Tonight we celebrate for this brief time together – then, fortified with the reminder of the baby, God’s love born anew into our community – we go out to face the storm with new courage and hope.