Troubled at Christmas

Luke 1:26-29; Matthew 2:1-3

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Priest-in-Charge

December 24, 2015

You have just heard the Christmas story read from Luke.  You probably have heard more sermons based on this text from the Bible than from any other passage in scriptures.  So tonight I have decided to base my reflections on two texts that are normally not read on Christmas eve/day. The first is often read during the Season of Advent, the second is usually read on Epiphany.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.  And the angel came to her and said: "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you. and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. But Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her heart what sort of greeting this might be.”  Luke:1:26-29

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying:  "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship Him." When Herod, the King, heard this he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with Him.”   Matthew 2:1-3

I.

These two texts reveal a similar reaction to the news they have received.  Two persons from vastly differing backgrounds had just been given news about the birth of a baby.  One was a peasant girl from the hills of Galilee. The other was a king who lived in the Jewish capital city, Jerusalem.  For both, the news brought distress. They were troubled at Christmas.

For Mary, the news brought risk to her reputation. She was single. What would people think of her when they discovered that she was pregnant? What would her fiancée do when he found out?  What would life be like for a Jewish peasant girl living as an unwed mother in first century Palestine? It is easy to understand why Mary was troubled!

For Herod, the news brought risk to his position of authority.  It threatened not only him, but the life of his nation. He was a puppet king installed by the power of Rome.  But he was also a Jew. If he could not control his people he knew only too well that Rome would remove him and install an even harsher rule.  Herod also knew that if the news spread that the expected Messiah had been born, the Jewish people could well revolt.  His throne would be threatened and his nation could be destroyed.  So when we think about it, we can also understand when the Bible informs us, that it was not only Herod who was troubled but also all his close advisors in Jerusalem with him.

II.

The risk of personal reputation and the challenge to political power, understandable as they are, were not the only reasons the Gospel writers recorded that Mary and Herod were troubled. There was a theological reason as well. Whenever God encountered people throughout the ages that are recorded in the Old and New Testaments or, whenever He had sent His messenger to them, the people fell back in awe, and the Bible states that they were troubled by the encounter.

This is seen most clearly in the life of the Prophet Isaiah.  With righteous indignation, he had declared woe to the nations for their godless ways.  He also pronounced judgment on his own nation as well for turning their back on God.  But in the year that King Ussiah died, Isaiah had a vision of the Lord.   He writes: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings; with two they covered their faces; with two they covered their feet; and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord our God, the whole earth is full of his glory."

And the foundations of the threshold shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  It was then that Isaiah, who had with such self-righteousness pronounced judgment on others, said: "Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts."  In the presence of the Lord the table turns. Isaiah is brought to the realization that he, too, is unworthy, falling short of God's demand for a holy life. His self-righteousness, His eagerness to judge others, fall like dross in the presence of the Almighty.

III.

All too often, the Christmas season proves to be a time for us to put aside the realities of our lives, put on a smiley face.  Tonight I have tried to highlight aspects of the Christmas story that allow us to be real. I know for many of you, Christmas is a time of sadness because you have lost someone dear. That empty place at the time during this season becomes a sad reminder. For others of us who are getting older, Christmas time is a time of reflection, will we be here next year to celebrate the coming of the Christ child?  Still others of us, like Isaiah as we encounter the presences of God, become aware that our relationship to God might not be as close as it should be.  

Many of us are troubled at Christmas and mask it with a smile. If this is your situation tonight, I have good news for you. It’s ok to be troubled at Christmas!  But learn to recognize that God is there in your situation. Embrace it. Not only will He sustain you, He will give you an inward sense of joy. With Mary we can respond, “May be unto me as you have said.” Then with the wise men we can present ourselves as a gift to the Christ child.  Amen