"Christmas Message"
Luke 2:1-20
Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones
December 24, 2012

When Presbyterian pastor, Michael Lindvall, was still in seminary he worked as a chaplain's assistant at a hospital for mentally troubled children. When December rolled around, he was given the job of directing the Christmas pageant. He recruited a little girl named Mary to be - who else but Mary? She took her role with utmost seriousness.

The little boy he asked to play Joseph was - well, not the child you would choose to play a saintly person. Although very bright, he was constantly chattering, constantly in motion and constantly mischievous. Michael says, "This kid did not have an off switch."

Michael knew enough not to attempt to have the children memorize any lines. An adult narrator read the nativity story from the passage in Luke and, as the narrator read the story, the children would act it out on the stage.

At the dress rehearsal, the narrator read the Christmas story from the King James Version of the Bible and the kids dutifully walked through the drama, scene by scene. All went according to script.

However, after their last rehearsal, a fellow seminary student pointed out that the children were unable to comprehend much of the story because of the antique language of the King James. He suggested that they switch to the contemporary Good News translation for the performance itself. Lindvall thought it was a good idea and made the switch.

The big day arrived. The parents of the children, along with the doctors and nurses of the hospital gathered for the performance. The children did a wonderful job. Everything went smoothly. Except for the part that did not. It was the scene in which Mary and Joseph walked on stage while the narrator read verse four.

During the dress rehearsal, the narrator had read the King James Version which says, "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, to Judea, unto to the City of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child."

None of the children had a clue what it meant to be "great with child." So during the actual performance, as their sweet little Mary and goofy little Joseph walked on stage, instead of reading "...with Mary, his betrothed, who was great with child," the narrator read, "...with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage. She was pregnant."

At that last word, Joseph froze in his tracks, looked at the audience, then directly at Mary and said, "Pregnant? What do you mean, €˜pregnant!?"

Little Joseph's flabbergasted question reminds us of the surprising nature of the birth of Jesus.1

According to Matthew, it startled Joseph enough that he contemplated breaking the engagement. It startled the shepherds who were out in their fields tending their flock on what they had thought was an ordinary night. It rocked King Herod so badly that he sent out death squads to eliminate any trace of the newborn child. And it still shocks today, when we try to wrap our heads around God's character being embodied in a human being.

We grapple for words to explain this mystery of Jesus being filled with God, but we come up short. Yet we gather each year at Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, because we know it is a powerful statement of God's love for the world.

You may remember Vaclav Havel, a poet, playwright and politician in Czechoslovakia who inspired the Velvet Revolution that brought down the Communist state without a shot fired. He wrote an essay in the 1970s, entitled "The Power of the Powerless," that challenged the control of the Communist government. It landed him in prison for five years. However, the state could not muzzle the power of the ideas he wrote, and the government fell. His motto was: "May truth and love triumph over lies and hate."

That is the message at Christmas. The truth of God and the love of God will overcome lies and hatred.2 It does not come quickly and it does not come easily, but truth and love will triumph.

That is why Christmas ought to be celebrated with such joy. It is a powerful proclamation of hope. God loves each one of us and seeks to lead us to a new world. A world where every child is loved and every person respected. A world where everyone gets a fair shake and all settle their disagreements without violence. A world where love and justice intertwine to give birth to peace.

More than anything, the birth of Jesus is the birth of hope. We must refuse to give in to despair because God so loves the world that God never stops piercing the darkness with light; never stops showing us a better path to pursue and never stops prodding us to make a more elegant and generous world out of the present one.

Physician, Charlie Clements is the Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. "He said that during an especially brutal year in the Salvadoran civil war, he met a woman in a rural village whom he would never forget. She told him about attacks upon her village and of her tremendous personal losses. Her husband had been killed by the Salvadoran Army, her daughter had been tortured and two of her sons had €˜disappeared.' Dr. Clements asked her, €˜Why aren't you in despair?' She replied, €˜Despair is a luxury I cannot afford.'"3

We do not give in to despair because when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God gave birth to hope. Jim Wallis of Sojourners writes, "Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change...Hope [without God] is nonsense, but hope [based on faith in God] is history in the process of being changed. The nonsense of the resurrection story became the hope that shook the Roman Empire and established the Christian movement. The nonsense of slave songs in Egypt and Mississippi became the hope that led to the oppressed going free."4

So despite horrible school shootings and countries at war, despite contentious disagreements and fiscal cliffs, despite an unstable world economy and an army once again occupying the town where Jesus was born, we cling to hope, because God loves the world and never stops presenting us with possibilities for a better day.

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell wrote a brief poem entitled, "Emmanuel."

From the cave of darkness
a baby comes to light.

In the nick of time,
eternity tonight.

In a world of error
a perfect child is birthed.

In the midst of terror,
peace arrives on earth.

In the chill of winter
dawns this blazing son.

To a world of sinners
comes this sinless one.

In a land of chaos
speaks this single Word

whose voice can raise the dead,
whose promise can be heard.

Even as he cries
sleepers stir beneath the sod

for [amazing things become possible]
with God.5


  1. Michael Lindvall, "Come On In," December 24, 2011.
  2. John Buchanan, "Christmas Eve Sermon," December 24, 2011.
  3. Sally Milbury-Steen, Pacem in Terris newsletter, December 13, 2010.
  4. Jim Wallis, "Let Justice Roll," December 16, 1990.
  5. Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, "Emmanuel," in Christian Century, December 13, 2011, p.11.