A Simple Story (Christmas Eve, 2017)
Let me tell you a story. A grungy–looking young couple are hitch–hiking on a lonely road. She looks to be about grade 11, and he is unshaven and disheveled. They may be gypsies or street people or refugees. The young woman is very pregnant and in obvious distress; the young man holds her protectively as they trudge along the side of the road.
A long–haul trucker stops to pick them up. He’s overweight, has a 4–day shadow on his face, and chomps on nuts and snacks as he drives. The young woman moans occasionally as the young man cradles her. The trucker, named Cioban, looks at the young couple with some concern.
They pull into a truckers’ rest stop at the side of the highway. The young man leads the girl to the washroom. Another truck pulls in, and a hooker comes out to flirt with the younger truck driver, hoping for some business. The lights outside the washroom flicker and go out with a pop. We are left in darkness.
You know something’s going on … but what? In the stillness of the night, we hear a baby’s cry. Cioban peers in through the open door of the washroom, and his face is wreathed in a miraculous smile as he sees the young woman holding her newborn baby to her chest. He takes out his phone and snaps pictures. The other truck driver and hooker come in, staring in wonder at what has happened. The hooker covers the baby and shivering young mother with her coat.
They set up a small camp outside the washroom facility around a small fire pit. A couple of cops stop to check things out; the truck driver shows them his phone with a goofy smile on his face, “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” The lights on the washroom facility flicker on again.
The story is told in a beautiful video prepared by the Reformed Church in Hungary. The video is called “Real Christmas”.
We celebrate a simple story tonight. The heart of this very simple story is that God loves us. Whenever God is present in the world, life is made holy and good. When God is present, even a restroom at a truck stop becomes holy ground.
The good news which we celebrate tonight is that God doesn’t come to punish or reward us according to what we’ve done; God doesn’t come to check up on us; God doesn’t keep a list of those who have been naughty and those who have been nice. That’s Santa. He’s a bad news dude.
God comes to love us. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, God loves us. God knows the best of us and the worst of us and will not let us go. We are loved. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more.
That’s the story of the gospel, and it begins with this birth of a child who changes everything.
It’s a simple story, and the power of it is that it works its way into our hearts and souls. It has a cast of characters who are just ordinary people:
- a teenaged girl, bewildered about being chosen for something special;
- a young man, wondering whether he can trust his beloved, wondering if he really wants to get involved in this mess of a relationship, and deciding to trust the young girl he loves;
- no–account shepherds and truck drivers, grateful for a diversion from the monotony of work;
- angels singing beautiful music out of sheer joy.
In these ordinary people, in this simple story, we see ourselves. God came into the lives of these very ordinary people. God also comes into our ordinary lives. God shows up in all the ordinary events of our lives.
We gather tonight to celebrate the wondrous birth of a child who embodies our hopes and fears. We come to the manger and learn once again that God’s love is for everyone, and most especially for those who don’t feel loved, for those who feel like they’re on the outside looking in, for those who wonder if life has any point. We come to the manger and feel the stirrings of the birth of this child within us.
It’s such a simple thing. From the very beginning, the story of our faith is that God loves us with an abiding passion that never ends. God says, “I am your God. You are my people. I will never stop loving you. I will never let you go.”
We come to the manger and the child is born—in us. The infinite God accepts the limitations of our humanity. God is with us. The child grows and reaches out to everyone. The child teaches us to live with grace and compassion. The child beckons us to learn the ways of love and compassion and to live with grace as we follow. The child, who is the Light of the world, shines in … and then shines through us as we go into the world.
And whenever the child is born again in children and women and men, whenever the light glows through us, we are changed and the world is made new and whole.
It’s a simple thing.
And what a profound joy it is for our world. This truly is “good news of great joy … for all people.”
Jesus is born into this world—for us, for all of us. Jesus is the sign of God’s love—for us, for all of us.
And this child changes everything.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
December 24, 2017 (Christmas Eve)
Luke 2: 1–20
Isaiah 9: 2–7