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       Sermons | Passionate worship

      This sermon was preached by the Rev. Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

      Dec. 24, 2019 | Christmas Eve

      The Power of Family
      Luke 2

       I  HAVE MORE NATIVITIES than I can count. All shapes and sizes. Some are tree ornaments. Some are made of wood, others of tin. Some are mass-produced. Some are handcrafted by people gifted in pottery or ceramics. One is literally made from a small matchbox. Another is large enough to place of the front steps. Some are made in the USA. Some come from remote villages in Peru or Mexico.

      Of all those, one that brings me great pleasure is from Haiti. It is clay, hand-shaped into simple figures and painted. It’s no longer perfect, there are chips here and there but then the folks gathered around the manger were not perfect either.

      One reason I like this so well it the number of folks gathered at the birth. I brought the nativity to youth group earlier this month and we talked about who this crowd of onlookers might be. There are 13. There are the obvious people. Baby Jesus. Mary, Joseph. A couple of shepherds. The wise men, who were not there that night but we merge Matthew and Luke and put them there anyway.

       † † † 

      THAT LEAVES LOTS of people left over. Who might they be?

      I say they are family. This is a story about the power of family. God sends his Son. Mary hears words from an encounter with the angel. Those words “you’re going to have a baby” put Mary in danger. Unmarried pregnant women are often stoned to death. After she encounters the angel’s news of she goes to family (Elizabeth) and is sheltered. That’s what family does.

      In music and art, and therefore in our minds, we’ve taken the Middle Eastern context out of this story. We envision Joseph and Mary being alone — on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They wouldn’t be. They would have traveled in a caravan. We imagine them alone at the birth. Mary and Joseph are not in this alone.

      We ignore people that would have been there even though they are not mentioned in the biblical account. They have come to Joseph’s ancestral home. They are with family and they are cared for. That’s what family always does, at least when it works the way it should.

      Mary would have been surrounded by aunts and women cousins as she brings forth her firstborn son. The menfolk are nearby anxious to hear the baby’s first cry.

       † † † 

      DID YOU PAY ATTENTION to the reading? She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. The word is kataluma. The same word as the “guest room” or “upper room” where Jesus will eat the Passover with his disciples. In our mind an “inn” relates to a motel. Joseph and Mary stayed with family. There are so many relatives in town for the census everybody’s guest rooms are full. But Mary and Joseph are not turned away, they stay downstairs where the animals stay at night. They are cared for. That’s what family does.

      In this world, family always provides shelter and support. That’s why Mary and Joseph are not concerned 12 years later when they are returning from their annual Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem: they supposed, for an entire day, that Jesus was in the group of travelers — with family.

       † † † 

      AN ANGEL APPEARS to shepherds in the fields, guarding their flocks. The angel says that a baby is born “to you.” The angel could just as easily have said that a baby was born to Mary, or the angel could have said that the baby was born to the family of David. But the angel says that the baby is born “to you.” The good news is the news of a birth, and the baby is born to a family. “Unto us a child is born.”

      Even the shepherds are part of the family, maybe not biologically, but family nonetheless. Having heard the family news, the shepherds do what family does — they go to welcome the baby and to congratulate the parents. But they are not limited to noticing that he looks just like Uncle Mordecai or has a quarterback’s hands. They have the word from an army of angels, singing in the night, so they report that. That is what family does.

      Mary, we are told, reflects on all of this, treasuring everything that has been said. This is what mothers do.

       † † † 

      SO, MY LITTLE NATIVITY from Haiti reminds me that our nativities are too sparse. And our idea of family too narrow. That means, perhaps our lives are too small as well.

      The good news is for all people, the whole family so loved by God that he sent his Son.

      — Keith Cardwell   

      «The good news is for all people, the whole family so loved by God that he sent his Son.»


      ►This is the Word of God for the people of God:

      Luke 2
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      The birth of Jesus
       In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

      4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

      8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

      13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

      14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
          and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

      15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

      16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


      a.  Luke 2:2  Or This census took place before

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