“Beyond the Kodak Moment”
Luke 2: 1-14
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
On the Duncan Phyfe table in my childhood home living room, a highly revered location, sat a dual-photo picture frame. One side held a photo of my brother in his favorite sailor suit; and the other, a sweet “Gerber-baby” photo taken of me when I was about 6 months old. I often looked at this photo as a child, for it framed a reference point for me of a time long passed for which I had no recollection. I looked at that sweet-faced baby in the photo, and I assumed the photo provided an accurate representation of my early life as a baby.
I believe I was in high school or college when I gazed at that photo, still fixed in its sacred location, and made mention of what a happy baby that photo showed me to be. Well, with that comment my mom set me straight on the “real” baby in that photo. It seems that the day the photo was taken was not one of baby Claudia’s better days. Apparently, something was making me fussy, and the harder the photographer tried to make me smile, the more I cried. Stuffed toys did not do it, nor did changing the background or dimming the bright lighting. My mom finally made some of her mom-magic, and the photographer was able to capture the momentary happy face in the photo I had so admired. So, although it may be true that every picture tells a story, and also true that a picture can be worth 1,000 words; a picture by itself does not always reveal to us the whole life-story that its image may appear to show us. There is often more of the story to be found beyond the Kodak moment.
We will find this assessment to be especially true if we look deeper into the Nativity we have here on display this evening. On the surface we have the serene scene of Mary and Joseph with the Christ-child Jesus, surrounded by friendly beasts who are sharing their manger with him for his bed. It is a true Kodak moment—the image of a scene frozen in time for all of our eyes to behold. Yet, the readings we shared tonight share a much deeper story that lies behind this peaceful manger scene. God’s plan for our salvation was revealed by the prophets, and set into motion centuries before that first Christmas. The prophet Isaiah spoke the prophecy of the coming Messiah found in tonight’s first lesson during his reign as a counselor to kings in the 8th century B.C. Down through the centuries that followed, prophets continue to bring the “good news” message that God can be trusted to fulfill God’s promises and to keep the future safe for all the people.
In the sixth month of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, a pregnancy that would bring forth Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, the angel Gabriel was sent to announce to her that she had found great favor with God. Mary would become the mother of the promised Messiah. Although this message was perplexing, and even potentially dangerous for her within the Jewish culture and marriage tradition, Mary assented to follow God’s plan. It was one complete with a rich meaning that would reach far beyond the Christmas manger scene. Likewise, as the Gospel of Matthew reveals, Mary’s betrothed husband Joseph received a similarly perplexing angel visitation. The angel told Joseph not to fear taking Mary for his wife, for she would become pregnant through a miracle of the Holy Spirit and bring forth a child named Jesus, the one who “will save his people from their sins.” Like Mary, Joseph also listened to and believed the angel’s message. He also did as the angel had told him, something that was countercultural to his Jewish faith and tradition, by taking a pregnant Mary to be his wife. “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 room for them in the inn.” Tonight we remember the story of these events that happened beyond the Kodak moment of the peaceful manger scene.
So, my friends in Christ Jesus, why is Pastor Claudia reminding us all of the “behind the Christmas Scene” events that happened that first Christmas on this cold and blustery Christmas Eve of 2022? Because just as God worked behind the scenes to prepare for the birth of Jesus, just as God brought us Jesus’ healing ministry to show us the way of God’s love, and just as Christ Jesus died and rose again in God’s plan to show us the power of God’s love for us, a grace-filled love which conquers even sin and death, God is still working behind the scenes and according to God’s ongoing plan to create great new events for our good. For a child has been born for us, a Son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. This is the good news that brings hope and the promise of a bright future to us even in these chaotic times we are living. So, ring the Christmas bells, sing the Christmas Carols, and read again the message of the prophets and the story of our Savior’s humble birth. May he be born anew in our hearts and lives this Christmas, not only as a Manger scene, but as a part of God’s wonderful plan for each of us behind, in, and through all the Kodak Moments of our lives. Blessed Merry Christmas to all. Amen.