It is good to be gathered here with you on this beautiful night, the night that we celebrate the birth of a baby who will change the world.

Everything about this evening is special – the music that our choirs have practiced for so many hours; the beautiful flowers and altar, arranged and prepared by faithful and loving hands, the glittering candlelight that adds to the magic and mystery.

And so do each and every one of you. Whether St. Dunstan’s is your church and you are here every Sunday, whether you’re visiting from out of town, or whether you’ve not set foot in a church in years, yet somehow felt drawn to this place this night, we are glad you are here. Your presence adds to the joy of our celebration.

We are here tonight to hear the ancient story of God taking on flesh and blood in the birth of a baby to a poor, peasant couple in an obscure corner of the Roman empire. For almost 2,000 years people have gathered on this night to hear this story that has brought hope and joy and comfort to more people than can be numbered.

The story is so familiar that most of us know it by heart — that Joseph and Mary, who is great with child, are commanded by the powers of their day to travel to Bethlehem to be included in a census. Mary is forced to deliver her baby in the crudeness of an animal shed because there were no rooms in any inns in Bethlehem.

If Mary and Joseph were arriving in Bethlehem today they would find plenty of rooms in which to stay. Christmas celebrations in the town of Jesus’ birth have been canceled this year because of war in Jesus’ homeland.

One Lutheran church in Bethlehem captures the feeling of this Christmas with a powerful and provocative display of their Christmas creche. A picture of it is on the cover of our service leaflet for tonight.

In it the baby Jesus is lying in a bed of rubble.

“Usually it’s Jesus in the manger surrounded by the shepherds, surrounded by Mary and Joseph,” says the Rev. Munther Isaac, the pastor of the church.

“Here we wanted to say that it is as if they are looking for Jesus in the midst of the rubble. We wanted to send a message to the world — a message that while the whole world is celebrating Christmas in festive ways, here in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, this is what Christmas looks like to us,” he says.

“Christmas is the solidarity of God with those who are oppressed, with those who are suffering, and if Jesus is to be born again, this year he will be born in Gaza under the rubble.”

Some have criticized this church and pastor for making Christmas political. The truth is that Christmas is always political, including that first one so long ago.

Jesus was not born into a world filled with light and warmth and joy. He came in the darkness, the cold, into a land occupied by a foreign empire. He came in poverty and vulnerability to a world filled with violence and evil. He came into a world that forced his parents to flee to Egypt, becoming refugees in order to keep him safe.

It could have happened differently. Jesus could have been born in Rome in the emperor’s palace. He could have been born into all the trappings of power, authority, and wealth. He could have moved in the highest echelons of society.

Thank God he wasn’t.

Thank God that instead in Jesus, God took on flesh and blood to ease the pain of the powerless, the oppressed, the vulnerable, the poor, the hopeless.

God took on flesh and blood so that God can truly understand what it means to be human, can truly share in our pains and sorrow, as well as our joys and triumphs.

Tonight, as every Christmas Eve, God looks at the earth and sees a world of pain. 

God sees the pain of God’s children in Gaza, in Israel, in Ukraine, and people all over the world who live in constant fear in the shadow of war.

God sees the pain of refugees across the world, the pain of the hungry, the poor, the vulnerable, and oppressed.

God sees the pain of those who have no one to love them, who suffer alone in prison cells and hospitals and nursing homes.

God sees the pain of those who outwardly look fine, but whose hearts are heavy with grief.

God sees the pain hidden in those who present themselves to the world as successful and powerful, but who quietly struggle with addiction, or in loveless relationships.

And God’s heart breaks for them; God’s heart breaks for us.

Out of that great love and heartbreak, God once again this night comes into the world bringing hope, comfort, and love.

“Our hope is in our faith,” pastor Isaac says. “Our hope is our resilience. So while Christmas celebrations are canceled in Bethlehem, Christmas prayers are not canceled.

“And maybe when we look at the image of Jesus under the rubble we will see a light of hope and life coming out of destruction, coming out of death.”


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