Sermon from the Nativity of Our Lord 12/24/2022

December 24, 2022: 10:00 p.m.Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Saint Luke 2: 1-20

In nomine Jesu!

“The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay” is God. What does that say to you? God, our God, is a weak, defenseless, helpless infant? What does that say to our society, a society that celebrates competitiveness, rewards aggressiveness, and worships power? What does that’s say to the Church and the world increasingly obsessed with proving that “our” version of God is bigger, better, tougher, and stronger and will one day give us ultimate control? “The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay” is God. What does this mean?

It’s not that he’s going to get any stronger. No, this vulnerability — this weakness — is not about to morph into something more. “The little Lord Jesus” grows up to teach, preach, heal, gather, and embrace out of weakness, working along the margins; inviting all people to model their lives on his. Jesus’ greatest act will be the least impressive: to die — weak, defenseless, helpless; on the margins, with the marginalized, under the tramping boots of those whose lordship he came — and still comes — to challenge: those who label themselves “God’s chosen,” “superheroes” who wrap themselves in “garments rolled in blood” even today. “The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay” is God. What does that mean?

Jesus’ kind of God – acting out of weakness, living on the margins, acting for the marginalized, often makes us uncomfortable. So we conjure up a myth – not biblical, but widespread – that this whole weakness thing – infancy, vulnerability, helpless dying – is a trick, a joke, bait to lure an unsuspecting world; the real story yet to come when the bait has been swallowed and Jesus finally strides forth, slashing sword in hand, leading an invincible angelic army; wiping out all who have not called him “Lord,” especially those who do not call him “Lord” the way we do.

It doesn’t matter that we can’t find one word that remotely resembles this in the Bible.

We are so uncomfortable with “the little Lord Jesus” as God that we insist on morphing him into a son of god like those who wrap themselves in “garments rolled in blood” so that we can comfortably continue to conform our lives to that lord’s way — the way of power and domination and control, and not to the way of “the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.” Worse, we insist on manipulating the Scriptures (what Luther calls “the manger in which we find the Christ”) to justify ourselves.

What has our worship of those in “garments rolled in blood;” gotten us? Examples range

  • From the unspeakable — the Holocaust, the Crusades; this year’s invasion of Ukraine;
  • to the horrific — terrorism, racism, slavery, colonialism;
  • to the offensive — spoiled billionaires lining their pockets, ruthless autocrats grabbing more power while millions are homeless, hungry, searching for asylum;
  • to the obscene — “entertainments” ranging from Nero’s Coliseum to this century’s all-too-popular “reality TV” which glorify “winners” and objectify “losers.”

You know that little “flip” you feel in your stomach when you hear of these things; that bit of bile that rises in your throat; that instinct to flip the channel or turn the page when these “caesarean activities” assault us? You know that compulsion you now almost always feel for “peace and quiet?” You know that sense that we’re living on “information overload;” that longing you express to hear a little good news; the uncomfortableness — maybe even anger you feel listening again to these things in Church on Christmas Eve? That restless stirring in our souls is the voice of God calling us away from idolatry and inviting us, even welcoming us, into the gentling presence of “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

That’s the God born in us again this night: the “little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay:” the One who from birth to death to resurrection to coming again does not change; the One whose frailty and weakness is not bait to lure us but nourishment to transform us to be ourselves vulnerable and useful to our society and to one another, “training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in this present age to live lives that are (elf-controlled, upright, and godly.”

That’s the God born in us again this night: “the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay,” whose weak infant cry pierced that first silent night, welcoming outcast shepherds into God’s holy presence; whose weak dying cry pierced the silent darkness of that awful day, welcoming a dying thief to be with him in Paradise.

That’s the God born in us again this night: the never-changing, eternally vulnerable, ever-embracing, always loving God who is Jesus Christ the Lord, coming to us in weakness, as helpless infant, dying Savior, water, Word, and meal; sharing our human fragility. Here with us, through our human fragility, Jesus is born in us to change the world, not with “wars and rumors of war” for some, but “peace, goodwill” for all.

That’s the God born in us again this night: “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay,” reminding us still yet again that the days of domination, of “boots of the tramping warrior” and “garments rolled in blood” are over. So that we can believe that, and live that, God in Christ comes to us now just as humbly as “the little Lord Jesus,” not to sleep in the hay, but to be born in our hearts and fill them with the Holy Spirit.

For to us a child is born; to us a son is given; Authority shall rest upon his shoulders, and there shall be endless peace … with justice and righteousness from this time onward …

“The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay:” That’s the God born in us again this night; born so that we can live as children of God too; and with Christ, bring joy to the world.