1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Please pray with me this evening, church:
Through the birth of a child,
You show us what Love looks like.
Let that Love be born in us again tonight,
So that we might be Love for the world.
So that we would build your home of love here.
On this very evening, 46 years ago, about 100 people from 30 families, plus a few neighbors and visitors gathered together in that building just next door for worship. On Christmas Eve in 1975, New Hope Lutheran Church had its very first worship service at this location.
In what is affectionately known as our Old Sanctuary, the dream of what this community of faith could become entered into a new chapter. Those incredible disciples that gathered here for worship 46 years ago took the next faithful steps to build a home for God’s people here in Missouri City…here in this place.
Throughout the Advent season, and now into the Christmas season, we’re using a worship series from the creative women of A Sanctified Art called Close to Home. This theme explores the depths of our longing after a God who chooses to make God’s home with us, here, in the person of Christ. What does it mean for us that the way God chooses to enter our world is through a tiny infant? What does home look like when the very definition of home for some is complicated, full of emotion, and not identical from one person to the next?
I want to express my thanks to our Church Council President, Dennis Kohn, who forwarded that newspaper clipping about New Hope’s first worship service here in this location. I’ve been thinking on it for a few weeks now, knowing that somehow it spoke to a sense of home for us, as a congregation…and maybe it speaks to a sense of home for you tonight.
I think about the courage it takes to begin and nurture and cultivate a community of faith. I’m so immeasurably grateful for the faithfulness and tenacity of all those who came before me, who stood in this pulpit, and inspired so many faithful disciples, including so many of you, to take risks in building a place of love that exists for the sake of our neighborhood and community.
I’m reminded that building that community and strengthening those relationships isn’t always the easiest of tasks. Relationship-building is tough work, and it’s sometimes messy. And I think about the story we just heard and how for so many of us, we picture a quiet, serene still-life…a scene that is probably set up and played out in many of your homes—Mary and Joseph positioned just so, the shepherds and livestock off to one side, the magi and their gifts off to the other, an angel perched precariously on top, and the tiny baby Jesus delicately placed with eyes closed and mouth barely open…”no crying he makes,” right…?
And as lovely as those nativity scenes are, anyone who has ever welcomed a child into this world or been around livestock knows…there was surely nothing silent about that night…to say nothing of little drummer boys offering drum solos to the newborn king.
And maybe that’s more the kind of nativity we need in our lives anyway. Because you know that rarely are our lives full of silent nights. Rarely do you get a break to simply gather your thoughts, let alone get the house ready for family and friends to come over. Rarely, anymore, do we find ourselves drawn together amidst deep division to do the tough work of having difficult conversations and mending strained and broken relationships.
But it’s precisely for the messiness of our lives that God in Christ came to this world.
God came to this world so that we would have hope—hope that where we are is not where we will remain and that we have an active role in bringing about that promised future.
God came to this world to bring peace—a peace that isn’t avoidance or quietism, but rather a peace that strikes at the heart of injustice, holds the center across even the widest chasms, and lasts to the very end of the ages.
God came to this world that you would know joy—not a happiness that is dependent upon external forces, but a deeply-seeded joy that anchors you amidst all of life’s storms.
And God came to this world that you would be wrapped up in love—that you would know deep within yourself, in your heart of hearts, that you are loved, that you are cared for, that you are precious, and that you are cherished.
And even more than all of that, God came to this world as a tiny baby so that you would begin to make those dreams a possibility and a reality here, in this time, and in your own place. God came to this world as an infant so that you would cultivate hope, peace, joy, and love in our world.
God came to this world that we would cultivate hope, peace, joy, and love here…at New Hope.
I’m grateful for the vision that was cast here 46 years ago—a vision that lifts up the poor and downtrodden, a vision that feeds the hungry and cares for the sick, a vision that houses those without a place to lay their head—and I rejoice because last week, within the span of 48 hours, New Hope was given 2 financial gifts totaling almost $200,000 so that we would continue to build God’s home of love here in this place, for the sake of our community.
God makes God’s home here with us, so that you would join in building God’s home of love. To invite and welcome others. To rest and recharge when you need a break. To be fed and nourished so that you are strengthened for this work. And to be equipped and inspired to keep building where we can.
46 years ago, a dream and a vision were cultivated here.
We have been given a gift. We have been given a legacy. And it’s our turn to build.
A home for you. A home for those without. A home for those who aren’t here yet.
A home for all.
Merry Christmas, church.