The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
We have just sung The First Nowell. It was passed down through the years and finally published in 1833. “Nowell” means “now all is well.” But was all well in the neighborhood that first Christmas? Not really. For example, those poor shepherds “in fields as they lay” remained poor shepherds. They still lived in an occupied country; existing under the heavy boot of Roman imperialism.
Likewise the unknown author of The First Nowell lived in a time and place when life was usually nasty, brutish and short. Disease, death, poverty and suffering abounded. However … the author still wrote with conviction … Now all is well, now all is well, now all is well, now all is well, Born is the king of Israel.
The infant born that night in Bethlehem grew into a man who was also the Christ “who with His blood mankind hath bought.” The wonder of His birth is inextricably intwined with the wonder of His death and resurrection, which secures for all time the hope that all will indeed one day be well … complete, whole, redeemed and restored. And it is in that knowledge that we reflect upon our Scripture today.
A very popular neighborhood in American culture is Sesame Street. In this neighborhood, Big Bird and Elmo reside along with many others, including Rosita & Chris. Chris was talking with Elmo and Rosita when they saw a moving van come into their neighborhood.
Elmo and Rosita were especially excited about having new neighbors; and when Chris told them that the new family included a girl, they were extremely excited to make a new friend to play with. They immediately wanted to go say Hi! So as soon as they saw her, they went over to introduce themselves.
The little girl’s name was Charlotte, better known as Charlie. She was very happy to meet Elmo and Rosita. They told her that it was a great neighborhood to live in and that everything happens on Sesame Street. She met Penguin on a pogo stick, the letter F and the number 5 (who assured Charlie with these words, “You can count on me.”) She visited Abby in the Fairy Garden and jumped to the conclusion that everyone was friendly — that is, until she met Oscar the Grouch. And that was a whole different story!
After Charlie was introduced to the neighborhood, she realized that in this neighborhood anyone can be friends—monsters, fairies, birds, snuffiluffiguses … kids — holding out hope that grouches could be, too!
God moved into a neighborhood in Bethlehem in the most unexpected corner: a stable. His arrival would not go completely unnoticed. Just as Elmo and Rosita spread the news that Charlie was in their neighborhood, so too the angel of the Lord spread the news that Jesus was in the neighborhood—the Messiah had arrived! — “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Notice it wasn’t just the one angel who was aware of the momentous event that happened that night. A multitude of angels joined the celebration, saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
With the birth of Jesus, things were going to be different. The prophecy was fulfilled — “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.”
The shepherds could not turn a blind eye to who had moved into the neighborhood. They needed to go and meet this child! And that they did. They found Jesus lying in the manger and knew that the Anointed One of God had arrived.
And just as Elmo and Rosita took Charlie around to meet the neighbors, so too the shepherds did their part in “taking the news” of the coming of God’s Son into the neighborhood, when they returned from visiting Mary, Joseph and the baby.
Is that not what we are called to do? We have a message to share about God’s moving into our neighborhood and changing the prospects of everyone in it because of his presence in it.
In 2010 a group of eight people from two churches felt called to the Detroit Boulevard neighborhood in Sacramento. It was known as one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighborhoods in all of Sacramento. Each house in that neighborhood was a place of danger. Nonetheless, this group of eight decided to walk through the neighborhood praying over each home and praying for the presence of Christ to reign over violence, addiction, and oppression.
One of the eight was a former Sacramento police officer and gang detective named Michael Xiong. He reported that “each time we prayed over the houses, we felt the weight of oppression becoming lighter.” On one of their prayer walks, a woman from one of the houses confronted them. When she discovered they were praying for the community, she asked for healing, and God healed her.
The group soon physically moved into the neighborhood and started what they called Detroit Life Church. A couple years later a local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, reported that there were no homicides, robberies, or sex crimes, and only one assault in Detroit Boulevard between 2013 and 2014. Detroit Boulevard had been transformed by a small group of people who began their ministry in the neighborhood by praying around houses, streets, and parks for people to be delivered from lives of addiction, violence and crime and sharing with folks the good news of Jesus.
God heard their prayers and moved into their neighborhood in a powerful way to change the prospects for many people in it.
And I am here to tell you this Christmas Day, God is here and in all of our neighborhoods, both the one immediately around Covenant, the one where each of us lives, and other neighborhoods throughout the world.
Will you take the Christmas message to your different neighborhoods? Will you seek to introduce your neighbors to the One who loves them beyond measure, who saves everyone who allows him to save them from whatever is holding them back, and who fills everyone who trusts him with peace, hope and life everlasting?