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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church

Luke 2:1-20
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
The  world  is  a  wicked  place.  Most  of  us  have  lived  long  enough  not  to  be  
surprised  by  what  we  hear  on  the  news,  by  things  people  do  to  one  
another,  but  every  now  and  then  one  story  or  another  will  get  to  us  and  
impress  upon  us  anew  that  there  is  great  wickedness  in  the  world.   What  is  
a  Ponzi  scheme,  or  pyramid  scheme?  Well,  no  need  to  give  a  definition  here  
and  now,  suffice  to  say  it  is  a  clever,  sophisticated  way  to  …  rip-off  your  
neighbors,  and  rip  ‘em  off  big.   Which  is  what  Bernard  Madoff  is  accused  of  
doing  for  the  last  two  decades  on   Wall  Street:  inducing  people – usually  
wealthy  people – to  give  him  large  amounts  of  money  to  invest  in  the  Stock
Market,   promising  them  consistent,  better-than-average  returns  on  what  they  
invest.  

For  many  years  it  appeared  to  be  working --  his  reports  indicated  that  his  
client’s  stocks  were  increasing  steadily  at  a  very  good  rate.  Then  recently  
quite  a  few  of  his  clients  wanted  to  withdraw  large  amounts  of money  and  
that  turned  out  to  be  a  problem.  It  seemed  the  money  was  not  at  hand.  It  
was  discovered  that  Mr.  Madoff  had  been  repaying  his  clients  this  way -  if  
investor  A  wanted  her  money,  Maydoff  had  to find  another  investor,  person  
B,  to  give  him  a  bunch  of  money  to  invest.  He  would  then  take  that  money  
and  from  it  pay  investor  A.  Person  B’s  money – at  least  the  full  amount –
would  never  get  invested  at  all.   That’s  a  problem.  That’s  illegal.  For  two  
decades  this  went  undetected  by  government  agencies,  or  at  least,  
unchallenged  by  government  agencies.    Some  very  wealthy  people  lost  a  lot  
of  money.  So  did  businesses  that  had  invested  with  Madoff  retirement  funds  
for  their  employees,  and  elderly  couples - excited  to  be  connected  to  
someone  as  well-known  as  Madoff  -  who  had  invested  their  life-savings.   A  
number  of  charities  had  trusted  Madoff  to  manage  their  money.   All  of  it  is  
gone  now.      Indeed,  the  world  is  a  wicked  place.

We  need  not  feel  superior  to  Mr.  Madoff.  Perhaps  we  would  not  have  done  
what  he  did,  but  then  we’ll  never  know  because --  most  likely  --  none  of  us  
will  ever  be  in  a  comparable  position  or  be  tested  with  that  sort  of  power,  
with  that  much  money.  The  story  of  Mr.  Madoff  reminds  us  once  more  that  
the  world  is  not,  of  its  own  accord,  a  benevolent  place.  The  end  does  not  
work  out  fine  for  everybody  if  we  just  let  things  follow  their  own  course.  
Human  nature  does  not  always  act  in  a  manner  that  is  in  the  best  interest  
of  the  common  good.  There  is  true  wickedness  and  evil  in  this  world.  We  
can  fight  against  it;  in  fact  -  we  are  called  upon  as  Christians  and  as  
human  beings  to  fight  against  it,  but  by  ourselves  we  cannot  fully  overcome  
it.   We  need  the  strong  arm  of  God  alongside  us.  

It’s  funny,  the  things  you  discover  in  scripture  after  having  read  it  and  heard  
it  your  whole  life  long.  Take,  for  example,  this  very  familiar  story  from  Luke.  
There  is  no  mention  in  it  of  Mary  riding  a  donkey  to  Bethlehem  --  we  all  
know  probably  that  by  now.   She  and  Joseph  might  have  had  a  donkey,  but  
scripture  does  not  mention  it.  There  is  also  no  actual  mention  of  a  stable.  I  
know  because  I  looked  for  it.   What  is  named  is  the  manger.  The  baby  
Jesus  was  laid  in  a  manger.  The  stable  has  been  deduced  from  the  manger  
--  since  a  manger  is  a  thing  that   cows  eat  their  hay  from,  the  birth  must  
have  taken  place  in  a  stable.

So…  this  is  where  God  is  born  when  God  enters  our  world, when  God  joins  
the  human  race  –  in  a  stable;  the  newborn  child  is  placed  to  rest  in  the  cow’
s  feedbox.  Martin  Luther  starts  to  muse  on  the  wickedness  of  the world  
when  he  gets  to  this  point  of  the  nativity  story  --  the   place  where Mary  and  
Joseph  are  forced  to  make  their  bed  in  the  stable  because  there  is  no  room  
for  them  in  the  inn.   He  reflects  upon  all  the  other  people  in  Bethlehem  that  
night  who  had  comfortable  lodging.  Even  if  they  did  not  know  what  child  it  
was  that  Mary  bore,  how  callous  that  no  one  would  give  up  a  room  for  a  
pregnant  woman  and  her  husband,  especially  a  woman  whose  time  was  so  
obviously  near.   Luther  speculates  that  the  rest  of  the  people  in  Bethlehem  
were  at  their  ease  -- maybe  resting  in  the  hostel;  or  eating  and  drinking,  
laughing  and  carousing  at  the  public  room  of  the  inn.  They  were  all  too  
busy,  he  says, to  notice  what  God  was  doing  right  there  in  their  midst.  (Of  
course,  this  is  often  true – that  we  are  too  busy  to  see  what  God  is  doing  in  
our  life,  in   our  ordinary  world.)  

And  yet,  I  wonder…  I  wonder  about  the  way  this  story  starts,  Mary  and  
Joseph  so  far  from  their  home,  staying  in  the  stable,  giving  birth  to  their  
first  child  and  laying  him  down  in  a  feeding  trough...  What  an  unusual  way  
to begin  a  life  --  and  this  is  the  life  of  God,  come  to  earth!   What  do  we  see  
happening  here?  What  is  this  telling  us?     

We  see  something  very  different  from  how  human  beings  usually  behave.  
We  are  all  are  so  competitive, even  if  we  don’t  especially  want  to  be,  it  
seems  somehow  to  be  required  of  us,  – this  expectation  that  we  “keep  up  
with  the  Joneses” – at  least  to  some  extent.   In  our  society  we   do  it, even  if  
we  would  rather  resist.  If  your  brother-in-law  gets  a  new  car  with  greater  
power  and  more  torque,  you  have  to  get  one  too.  Or  when  you’re  my  age –
if  a  life-long  friend  loses  weight,  gets  a  great  haircut,  some  new  clothes  and  
looks  terrific  --  believe  me,  you  want  to  do  the  same  thing.  You  find  out  that  
a  co-worker  with  a  job  at  the  same  level  as  you,  has  a  salary  one-third  
higher  than  yours   -  you  want  a  raise  or  a  darn  good  explanation.   We  see  
other  folks  setting  aside  some  hefty  nest-eggs  for  retirement  and  we’d  like  to  
have  that,  too.   Go  to  a  party  and  find  that  everyone  is  dressed  in  fancier,  
more  expensive  clothes  than  you  are,  that  they  all  work  at  more  “high  
powered”  jobs  than  you  do,  and  you  might  feel  a  little  intimidated.  It’s  the  
way  of  the  world.    It’s  the  frame  of  mind  that  allows  Ponzi  schemes  to  
work.  

It  didn’t  have  to  begin  this  way.  God  could  have  been  born  in  Rome,  the  
seat  of  the  empire  --  Jerusalem,  the  capital  of  Israel,  any  way.  God  has  
“connections,”  strings  could  have  been  pulled,  things  might  have  gone  
differently…  The  birth  place  of  our  Lord  could  have  been  a  palace;  if not,  
then  a  nice  brick  Colonial,  or  at  least  a  modest  ranch…  Mary  could  have  
had  a  whole  company  of  angels  attend  her  while  she  gave  birth,  or  a  top  
doctor  and  some  skilled  nurses,  but  she  had  no  one.      Joseph  didn’t  know  
what  to  do.  Was  there  even  any  clean  water  in  that  stable?  Probably  not.  
Jesus  was  born  in  miserable  surroundings  --  in  a  stable,  kept  company  by  
cows  and  sheep  -- other  than  his  parents,  welcomed  by  some messy  hay  
and  straw.     

And  the  result  is   that  we  are  not  overpowered  by  his  arrival.  We  are  not  
terrified  by  the  stark  fact  that  God  has  come  to  check  us  out and  live  
among  us.   We  do  not  have  to  put  up  our  guard  or  keep  our  distance  for  
fear  of  not  measuring  up  to  a  fine  and  kingly  God.  Instead  we  come  to  a  
stable,  a  crude  barn  where  oxen  are  munching  hay,  where  Mary  has  bits  of  
straw  in  her  hair,  where  the  light  is  dim  and  no  one  is  dressed  too  properly.  
We’re  all  just  trying  to  keep  warm,  to  keep  body  and  soul  together.  But  
here,  in  the  middle  of  the  scene  is  this  baby,  this  child – as  ordinary  as  can  
be  except  that  he  has  come  as  God’s  Son,  to  save  us.  In  these  most  
humble  surroundings,  no  one  feels  out  of  place  or  unwanted.  At  his  crib-
side  -- looking  at  him,  marveling  at  his  soft  skin,  wanting  to  touch  him  -- no  
one  is  beyond  his  circle  of  light  and  love.  He  is  right  here  for  us  all.  

Everything  starts  over  tonight.  Everything.   Our  redemption  begins  in  the  
birth  of  a  baby,  a  birth  that  takes  place  in  a  stable  when  no  one  in  town  is  
paying  any  attention.  The  child  who  is  born  is  Lord  of  the  Universe,  King  of  
kings,  mighty  God.  His  mother  wraps  him  in  strips  of  cloths – they  had  no  
baby  clothes  with  them.  She  lays  him  in  the  manger  because  there  had  not  
been  any  room  at  the  inn.       There  in  the  stable  she  and  her  husband,  
Joseph,  fret  and  fuss  over  their  firstborn  son,  God’s  own  son.    The  only  
ones  who  come  to  worship  the  child  are  lowly  shepherds  and  smelly  sheep.   
Not  very  noble  visitors,  but  just  right  for  this  King.    For  this  is  Emmanuel –
God  entering  our  world  in  human  flesh – making  a  quiet,  humble  entrance  
into  our  lives,  coming  gently  so  as  not  to  frighten  us,  coming  among  the  
poor  so  all  can  approach  him  without  fear.  

Everything  starts  over  tonight.  Jesus  comes  as  a  helpless  baby  born  to  a  
vulnerable  family.  Hearing  about  his  birth,  our  hearts  go  out  to  him.  How  
could  we  not  love  him? – so  small  and  sweet  on  his  mother’s  lap,  in   his  
father’s  arms?  As  a  baby  he  wins  our  trust  and  our  hearts.  Seeing  the  Lord  
of  the  Universe  in  this  baby  we  remember  that  the  world  does  not  belong  to  
the  wicked,  however  much  noise  they  might  make,  however  much  trouble  
they  might  stir  up.  The  world  belongs  to  this  one,  to  our  Lord  God -  who  
doesn’t  mind  being  born  in  a  stable  to  insignificant  parents,  without  
attendants,  spending  his  first  night  in  the  feedbox  of  the  cows.    He  is  
content  --  content  to  give  up  power,  content  to  let  go  of  divinity  so  that  he  
can  be  with  us,  for  loves’  sake.    Let  us,  then,  receive  him  with  love.                  
amen.