Note: I preached this sermon on January 31, 2016 at Messiah Lutheran Church in Wauconda, Illinois. Apparently I did not make a manuscript of it.

I remember being a college student in the desert in California and looking up at the night sky and being filled with a kind of awe I did not have a name for. I didn’t yet have any firm ideas about God. But it was as if I was being asked something: is there some great unity behind this vast universe? Do the stars in their courses have anything to do with me, a little tiny person on a mountain somewhere? There is something about beauty and vastness and the sheer power of nature that leads us to the edge of ourselves, right up to God.

And what you learn from this experience of insecurity is that the way we talk about this stuff—what we’ve “earned,” what we “deserve,” what we’re “entitled” to—is just words. There’s only what we’re willing to give to each other, and what the world can take away. The rest of it–all that “earning” and “deserving” and “being entitled”–is smoke and mirrors. The child in our care can see a doctor when she needs to and get the medicines that help her breathe because Americans pay for her, through Medicaid. And if we as a society are ever convinced that medicine for a child is a luxury we can’t afford, it can just go away.

The child in Bethlehem is not mighty. He can’t speak. He can’t read the stars. He can’t interpret a dream. He has no armed guards. He has no religious experts to flatter and protect him. Yet he is the one who draws the homage of the great and mighty. He commands that homage. And it doesn’t matter if the homage comes in the form of rich gifts or royal fury. They all point to the same truth

God becomes a human being so that human beings can become like God.

And this happens to us anywhere and at any time. Whether you are surrounded with loved ones, or stranded away from home, or simply without close family or friends. Whether you have a stocking full of old family traditions or whether you didn’t even grow up with a tree. Whether you know the songs or not. Whether you’re at a festive gathering or whether you’re at an all-night diner, with only those other people who have nowhere else to go.

It’s a remarkable scene. God is acting in the world in unexpected ways, and these two women are the only ones who can speak about it. Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, doesn’t come into the story yet. Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, has heard from an angel but he didn’t believe so he’s been struck mute. Only the women can say what’s going on. Only the women can carry the Gospel in their words as they do in their wombs.

I wrote a lot this year, more than I had any good reason for writing, and more than anyone was likely to much benefit from. It’s hard to exaggerate how quickly it all flies away. Now and then something has a life of its own and wanders back to meet you, but for the most […]

[I wrote this in 2011] At a church council meeting a couple of years ago, we found ourselves discussing friends and neighbors of our city church and their prospects for eventual membership. One neighbor in particular seemed like he should really be coming to church because, as someone observed, his brother is a Lutheran pastor. […]

[Note: the date of the issue is incorrect. I wrote this in 2011] I have made two visits to St. Augustine’s House in Oxford, Michigan. The first was in 2006, after my second year of divinity school and my summer clinical pastoral education unit with a hospice care provider, and before my endorsement interviews and […]

However gauche it may be in clergy circles to say it, I loved my seminary experience. From the summer intensive course on New Testament Greek before my first quarter at the University of Chicago all the way to a course on John Calvin that concluded my last, lagging Lutheran year at LSTC, I enjoyed myself […]