Sermon text: Luke 2: 1-20
Here at Zion, this video worshipping process is still new enough that we keep surprising ourselves when we stumble across something cool. Earlier this month it happened again when Ryan Custead, our Director of Faith Formation and Outreach, the guy who records and edits all of our video worship, when he shared his amazement at some scenery he caught on camera the day before.
Moments after he walked into the office one morning I heard, “You guys have to come see this! Check out these shots. Can you believe I got them from the Aldi parking lot?” On his computer screen was a montage of B Roll, beautiful images of nature. Shots of bush limbs quaking in the breeze against a steel blue sky, patches of snow on a hillside with sunlight glinting off of them, and the setting sun peaking through a grove of bare trees. Some of them were close ups. Some of them were panoramas. All of them beautiful. All of them captured from the black asphalt of the Aldi parking lot in Altoona.
Ryan went on to share how fortunate he felt to look up and to see these views from where he was, and even more fortunate that he had his camera bag in the car. He joked that fellow shoppers probably thought that he was crazy, as he carefully framed and gathered footage of a leafless bush outside of the supermarket. As he video came to and end he reflected, “I guess it isn’t necessarily where you are, but the way you’re looking at it.”
For the last several weeks that line has stuck with me: “It isn’t necessarily where you are, but the way you’re looking at it.” That evening Ryan captured some gorgeous images because he was looking. Beauty was hiding in plain sight. He documented these visuals because he had eyes to see. How many fellow shoppers simply glanced at the same scenery? How many walked by without giving it a second thought, without evening looking up?
What if we switched settings from the Aldi parking lot to a stable in Bethlehem? Jesus was laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. If you ever have the chance to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the purported location of Jesus’ birth, you will quickly find that our household nativity sets are much cozier than the accommodations given to the Holy Family. In the basement of the church there is a shallow cave where Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and who knows how many animals spent the night together.
In that time period it was common for people to utilize caves as part of their dwellings and structures. In fact, if you head north to Nazareth, to the Church of the Annunciation, the place where this journey started when an angel spoke with Mary, you will find a similar sight. A church built around a cave where the event is said to have taken place.
Look at the nativity and what do you see? For most people it would have been the sight of a poor, traveling couple bedding down with all of the livestock. In fact, if you show a nativity scene to an unchurched person without any context the whole diorama doesn’t look like much, maybe a farmer’s family huddled with some animals, and it would be easy to just glance and move on, or to simply pay no attention at all. This scene could be in a wooden stable, in a cave, or in a palace…it isn’t necessarily where you are, but the way you’re looking at it. And here we have God, hiding in plain sight.
That night no one would have been the wiser, no one would have paid the traveling couple any mind if it wasn’t for the army of angels whose song declared the gospel news to the shepherds, who were keeping their flocks by night. But with heavenly guidance the unlikeliest of visitors find God in the unlikeliest of places. The savior is in a stable. The Messiah is in a manger. The Lord is among the lowly.
That is where Jesus was born, that is how God took on flesh…not with great fanfare, but hidden from most of the world. Jesus enters our scene as a whisper amongst the world’s cacophony. How easy would it have been to blink and completely miss the event of his birth?
Even though we travelled two millennia through time and space, I don’t know if the job of the shepherds has changed all that much. Of course, I’m not talking about tending sheep. I’m talking about finding, worshipping, and sharing the good news about God. We know that God is here, hiding in plain sight. Do we have eyes to see Jesus, as we live and breathe? Can we act like we are sent by angels to search for God living among us?
Even in the year 2020, especially in the year 2020, we know Jesus is present. Even though the winning design for this year’s Hallmark Ornament could best be depicted as a flaming dumpster, we have faith that God is hiding in plain sight. That God is rubbing elbows with us. For it isn’t necessarily where we are, but the way we’re looking at it.
Now, more than ever the world needs shepherds. The world needs people who can look past the stench and the companions of the stable, who can see beyond the strips of cloth and the splintered manger, to see the gift of God in our midst. For that is the truth we celebrate this day—Jesus comes to us as we are. Jesus enters into the most dire and unsuspecting circumstances to share our life. Jesus breathes new life and hope into a world that is tired and cruel. Jesus brings us good news of great joy for all the people, and we can witness him, no matter where we are.
The shepherds bear witness and so shall we. The shepherds look for God in the most unexpected of places, and so shall we. The shepherds pave the way and show us Emmanuel and our search continues.
If there is ever a time that we need the promises of God enfleshed, it is now. We have been through hell this year; none of us are unscathed. 2020 has passed like dog years with all of our hopes and fears—with viruses, fires, storms, job loss, race relations…murder hornets. And yet, Jesus is present. Jesus is with us, bringing his peace where we have daily known heartache and turmoil. So, like the shepherds, may we search him out. May we discover his presence. May we share the good news. May our eyes be opened to God’s splendor. For it isn’t necessarily where we are, but the way we’re looking at it. And the way I see it, God is here, God is with us. May we have eyes to see this babe, the child of Mary.
Merry Christmas. AMEN