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"A Christmas Parable"

She realized this was a parable for the incarnation. She writes, “So, if you have ears to hear, listen: when your grilled cheese is eaten by monsters, when your diner burns down, when your life gets turned upside down, Jesus is there. When we face hardship, injustice, division, grief, loss, and uncertainty, Jesus is there.”

Detail of “Donkey, Llama, Goat, Sheep” by Eli Halpin

Luke 2:1-14

December 24, 2023 - Candlelight Service

Dr. Todd R. Wright


 Luke is pretty matter of fact when retelling the story of the incarnation. The story of God taking on human form and being born as a baby in Bethlehem is couched in the ordinary:


Caesar makes a proclamation and, as the powerful do, expects everyone to pay attention!


Those under his thumb comply. They don’t really have a choice. The powerless never do!


People are inconvenienced – none more than Mary and Joseph who must travel all the way from Nazareth to the sleepy city of David’s birth.


She is pregnant. The time comes. And the Son of God is swaddled and placed in a manger.


It is perfectly ordinary:

He is one of hundreds of babies born in Israel that night. Most to poor parents.

Almost all those families are being slowly crushed by taxes and fear.

Almost all rejoiced at the blessing, but worried over their child’s future.

Almost all prayed that their children would grow to see God’s deliverance!

 

Eliza Jaremko tells a parable of Christmas that also starts with an ordinary story.[1]


Her daughter, 4, is playing at being a waitress, equipped with a marker and notepad.


Jeremko dutifully orders a grilled cheese.


When the little girl returns a few minutes later with a plateful of plastic food and wooden blocks, she plays along: “Yummy! This is the best grilled cheese yet!”


But her daughter rolls her eyes and launches into an epic story:

“[It isn’t] grilled cheese because we don’t have any grilled cheese. The diner got really busy today. Everyone wanted grilled cheese! So, we made a lot of grilled cheese. Stacks and stacks of grilled cheese up to the sky! Then a giant, giant monster came. He ate up all the grilled cheese. Then the diner caught on fire and the monster ran away. And that’s why we had to move in with Jesus.”


An ordinary tale can slide into the extraordinary in a heartbeat!

 

Luke shifts from his tale of a baby being born to telling about angels appearing to shepherds!


It is almost as surprising a development as monsters and fires and couch-surfing with Jesus!


Jeremko was not ready for the shift. I suspect Luke’s original audience wasn’t either.


She quizzed her daughter: “You had to move in with Jesus?”


“Yes. My brother and I slept in his nice, comfy bed.”


“You took Jesus’ bed?” Jeremko asked, a little appalled. “Where did Jesus sleep?”


“In the attic,” her daughter said. “He gave us his bed.”


That seemed like an obvious development to her, so she cleared [the] dishes and went back to the play kitchen. Story over.

 

Jeremko is a pastor, so of course it wasn’t over for her. She realized this was a parable for the incarnation. She writes, “So, if you have ears to hear, listen: when your grilled cheese is eaten by monsters, when your diner burns down, when your life gets turned upside down, Jesus is there. When we face hardship, injustice, division, grief, loss, and uncertainty, Jesus is there.”


His incarnation means he is there in the ordinary – when most folks would hardly notice.


But God wants us to notice! And so God sends angels out into the surrounding hills!


Maybe you haven’t seen angels, but God has caught your attention anyway: When monsters make us feel powerless. When fire destroys everything we held precious. When circumstances force us to depend on the hospitality of others. We find ourselves aware of the presence of God.


Not as a figure trapped in the confines of old Bible stories.


Not as a distant God who loves at arm’s-length.


Not as an intellectual formula or an artist’s rendition framed on our wall.


No, God is alive in current stories – our stories (or those told to us by 4-year-olds) – stories that tell us that God is right there with us – “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood,” as the Message translates John 1:14.


So when you hear the stories coming out of Israel-Palestine, look for the incarnation, because our Lord cannot ignore the cries of God’s people.


When you drive by the former Garnet Career Center as Manna Meal is serving lunch, look for Emmanuel, God with us, for our Lord is wherever the hungry are being fed!


When you play with your grandchildren, listen for stories of Jesus in our midst.


And when you lift your candle high tonight, light the way for the incarnation! Amen


[1] From “Moving in with Jesus: A grilled cheese parable” in the Presbyterian Outlook, 12/13/23

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