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We Cross Borders - A Christmas Eve Message

We Cross Borders

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20


“As newlyweds, Carol and Alan looked forward to celebrating their first Christmas together. In their new apartment, the Georgia couple decorated their tree with ornaments from their childhood years, along with new ones that boasted "Our First Christmas."


Carol and Alan were about to discover, however, that celebrating together was more complicated than they had imagined. Alan's birthday was close to Christmas, so Carol's mother-in-law thought she'd cook a big meal at her house. Carol told her mother-in-law they had already made plans for that night, and she seemed to understand. But when they hung up the phone, Mom called her son and pitched her idea to him.


When Carol found out that her mother-in-law had gone behind her back, Carol confronted her. The conversation ended in tears — for both of them.


Carol was also frustrated with her husband. While he showed concern for her that first Christmas, he wasn't straightforward with his mom. Carol wanted her husband to speak up for her — for them.


"Alan didn't rally for me that Christmas, and it wasn't necessary after the talk I had with his mom, but it was a learning experience for both of us," Carol says. "I think a lot of new husbands make this same mistake. They take the side of 'not taking sides.' In their minds, neutrality is easiest."

In the end, Carol's mother-in-law agreed to give up a bit of control. The next Christmas, Carol suggested they have Christmas Eve at her mother-in-law's house.”  (www.focusonthefamily.com)


Relating to the in-laws, well, relating to any family member this time of year is tough.  There is usually some sort of tension, drama, and high-stress moments.  Sometimes, we are passive aggressive about the drama and complain about the experience later to anyone who will listen.  Other times, we cross borders, and experience conflict.  Once in a while, all is truly merry and bright.  Whatever has happened in the past and whatever will happen this year or in the coming years, the high-emotional time of this season is normal.  We are victims of nostalgia.  We try to relive or hold onto memories of our past, even though we are crossing borders into a new life on a daily basis.  


In our personal lives, we make decisions everyday based on what is happening right in front of us, as well as what we know and learned from in the past.  We are different people from one day to the next, one hour to the next, one moment to the next.  And we are not alone.  Every person we meet makes a similar journey.  While we are not the same people we were at last Christmas, the stress of season catches up with us when we try to experience the “perfect” holiday.  


With that said, I think we should take some solace in the fact that even the first Christmas wasn’t perfect.  Luke’s passage is perfect for tonight as he tells the story as if it were in real time.  (The Gospel of Matthew tells the story over a few months.)  The story is told of the holy family as they are required to go and show proper documentation in Joseph’s hometown.  Mary is in no shape to travel, yet due to government rules they make the trek.  Upon arrival, the worse that could happen did.  She went into labor.  After searching for shelter, they found room what could have been the lower level of a typical 2 story inn or home in ancient Palestine.  There, Mary gives birth and the family begins to rest.  

With all this happening, word begins to spread of the baby’s birth.  The Lord’s angel spread the news to all who would hear.  This is where the story gets really good.  The angel’s first visit is to the Shepherds.  Shepherding was a despised job.  In the eyes of the elite of the day, the angel’s visit to the shepherds represented that Jesus birth was the beginning of a new era.   This kid who was going to be king was here for everyone, not just the elite, the rich, the documented.  This proclamation of peace to the shepherds was given in direct contrast to the rule of Rome.  Talk about conflict!  


All season long, we have been talking about border crossings in our own lives, and in the lives of those at our southern border here in the states.  We have talked about why we might cross a border, what happens when we find ourselves in the middle, between borders, and what happens when we successfully cross into a new country, a new land, and a new life.  We attempted to capture this crisis within the realm of our comfortable, safe life here in Stoughton Wisconsin.  The conflict that I have heard many talk about this season is found in our hearts.  We are not the same people that we were when we started this journey.  This tension that we have carried is normal, when we grow in faith.  I can only imagine how life improved for Carol and Alan after that first Christmas as a married couple with the in-laws.  With Mary and Joseph, their story became one of a refugee.  They ended up fleeing for their lives after the birth as we read in the Gospel of Matthew that Herod wanted to kill Jesus.  

Matthew 2:13-15 says, “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”


Tonight is a night where we can make a decision to cross a border or not in our faith lives.  We can continue the traditions of our holidays for example: celebrate passive aggressive visits with family members or complimenting bad cooking as good.  We can also cross a border and grow and move forward in faith.  Sociologist Brene Brown writes, “When our lives become pageants, we become actors. When we become actors, we sacrifice authenticity. Without authenticity, we can’t cultivate love and connection. Without love and connection, we have nothing…”  (https://brenebrown.com/blog/2014/12/03/show-must-go-cost/)


Jesus came to offer us an avenue to understand what love and connection could look like.  In turn, we have to offer our whole heart to him for him to truly change lives.  It is tough to see this tonight, with the baby.  Looking at the manger, he has his whole life ahead of him.  Yet, we have an opportunity before us, as modern people of faith to truly look up on this baby as the king he will be.  Isaiah writes of this promise for us.  While he is focused on the birth, he dreams of the day when that baby will occupy the throne and establish a kingdom of peace, governed by justice and righteousness.


This is where we join with Isaiah.  We want to hold onto the past, the holy night.  We want to hold onto traditions that have gone by the wayside as we have gotten older.  We want to hold onto the good feelings of this night.  Yet, we live in the real world.  We live in a world where sin guides more than grace.  We live in a world where border crossings are dangerous and challenging. Even if you are a legal citizen, border crossings are uncomfortable.  Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, someone who made being uncomfortable the norm. 


Tonight, we celebrate that perfection in life, in paperwork, in, well, in faith is not needed.  What is simply need is an open heart that says, I am going to give it a try.  I am going to follow after this baby and see where he leads.  What is simply needed is the courage to cross the border and excitedly anticipate a new day with Jesus.  


Let us pray.  God of love, on this holy night, we sing of the good news of the birth of Jesus.  We see this baby, and see the potential that he brings.  We also hear a story of refugees seeking safety and shelter, running in fear for their lives.  We hear a story of a family needing shelter as they try to fulfill government requirements.  God, this story is our story.  We celebrate the birth tonight, and remember that tomorrow is coming.  Help us to hold onto this joy, this excitement, this anticipation as we move into another year with you.  Help us to cross this border changed for the better.  May our hearts reveal this good news to all who will hear it.  In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.

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