Luke 2, selected verses
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
December 24, 2018 — Christmas Eve, Early Service

Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God journeying to earth as a human to walk where we walk, to be tempted as we are tempted, to know joy and suffering as we know joy and suffering, and to die on a cross that he might be resurrected and give us the gift of eternal life.

Can you imagine setting off on a journey knowing that it was going to be terribly hard and eventually lead to your dying a painful death?  I dare say, that all of us would probably choose not to take the journey.  But God dared to take the journey — God dared to send his Son into the world.

Augustine once wrote, “Without God, we cannot; but without us, God will not.”  God wants to enjoy our companionship in the collaboration of shared effort.  God invited the participation of Elizabeth & Zechariah, Mary & Joseph, and Augustus, in the journey.  In fact, he began planning the journey years before, including Abraham & Moses, Esther & Ruth, David & Isaiah (to name a few).

Elizabeth & Zechariah were long past child-bearing age when an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and told him Elizabeth would bear a son.  Zechariah questioned how this could happen and was muted until the child was born.  Yet God didn’t change plans because Zechariah did not believe the angel’s message.  Zechariah and Elizabeth became pregnant and brought into the world, John.  (What joy he would be to the child-less couple!)   John would come to be known as John the Baptist, and prepare the way for his cousin, Jesus and His ministry.

Elizabeth’s pregnancy brought comfort to Mary, a teenager pregnant with God’s Son, in a world that didn’t know what she knew. Elizabeth had been let in on the gift of Mary’s boy-child, and together they could celebrate the part they and their babies had to play in God’s journey into the hearts of human beings who would allow him entrance.

Can you imagine what must have taken place in Nazareth when Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth? She left as a young women engaged to Joseph and came back as a visibly pregnant teenager. When? Who? Joseph, knowing he wasn’t the father, was willing to step aside from the engagement. But being a man of faith who was open to hear from God knew that, when an angel appeared to him and told him that Mary was carrying Jesus, God’s Son, it was a message from God—and he would be the earthly father that Jesus would know.

God welcomed Elizabeth and Zechariah, along with their son John, to prepare the way for Jesus in His journey to all of us. God invited Mary and Joseph to hear and believe, and together to bring Jesus into the world and raise him into adulthood; and yes, God even collaborated with Caesar Augustus. “How so?” you might wonder. Caesar Augustus’ order of a census got Mary and Joseph right where they needed to be for the coming of Jesus into the world. Jesus needed to be born in the City of David to fulfill scripture, he needed to enter the world poor and humbly; he needed to be welcomed by those near and far because he would be the Prince of Peace for people everywhere. An angel appeared to the shepherds to tell of Jesus’s arrival — God’s journey to people’s hearts was fully on — the Messiah had arrived!

To this day God is seeking to journey into the lives of those who allow him entrance. God is also still seeking the help of people willing to prepare his way.

In this week’s E-touch, a weekly e-mail publication here at Covenant, there is a story that illustrates people joining with God on the journey to touch people’s hearts with the love of Christ and deliver the life-changing message he offers.

The Church Under the Bridge (CUB) in Waco, Texas, will soon have to vacate the space under Interstate 35 where it has been meeting for worship since 1992.

The Texas Department of Transportation plans to widen the bridge over the next three to five years, during which time construction will make the church’s current space unusable for worship. The church’s founder and pastor, Jimmy Dorrell, who teaches at Baylor University and founded the charity Mission Waco, said “The Texas Department of Transportation is remodeling our place at no charge to us. You can’t beat that.”

Plans for the bridge project include adding better traffic control features and lighting to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Lower curbs will improve access for the handicapped, and the lane widening of the bridge will expand “the roof” over the congregation, which will keep people dry when it rains.

Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the HGTV home-improvement reality series Fixer Upper, have offered the church the use of their property nearby, Magnolia Market at the Silos, for Sunday worship during the bridge reconstruction, just four blocks from the current site.The CUB, defines its call as “to be church to the unchurched … to the poor and marginalized, … the mentally ill, … addicted, unemployed, and otherwise struggling people.” Church leaders de-emphasize outward appearances and seek “to provide acceptance and access … friendliness and concern … respect and dignity” to all attendees, regardless of their background or life experience.

Over the years, many people have expressed surprise about how they sensed God’s presence in what some might view as an unlikely setting for encounters with God.

Brenda Coffman, 76, a volunteer from one of the area churches that make breakfast and sack lunches for Sunday worshipers on a rotating basis, said it’s easy to get to CUB, and people can come and go as they please …

Robert Walker, 50, who has attended CUB for 20 years except when he was in prison, said the current location is “sacred ground” for him, where “people loved [him] when [he] didn’t love [himself].” They “keep the body (of Christ) together, wherever we are … [and] allow the Spirit to usher in and the Bible to be preached,” …

If the new location doesn’t work out, Dorrell said they’ll explore other options. “If the poor don’t show up, we’ll move,” he said, “because we’re there for the poor.” …

Waco businessman Mack Hardin … is interested in helping CUB because “Jimmy … ministers to people who might be asked to scoot over if I were to bring them to church. They are the kind of people Jesus hung around with.” …

The church describes itself on its website as “An ordinary church made holy by His presence … black, white, brown, rich and poor, educated in the streets and in the university, all worshiping the living God, who makes us one.” The church website states that the church strives to maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit under the lordship of Jesus Christ, seeking to overcome “denominational, cultural, economic or racial” barriers by welcoming people from various backgrounds “to love God … with all their heart, soul and mind, and to love their neighbors as themselves.”

The church is committed to embrace “all racial and economic backgrounds in membership and leadership.”

“It’s fun to look out on Sunday morning to see black and white, rich and poor. People working on their Ph.D. will be sitting next to someone who can’t spell their own name,” Dorrell said. …

God would love you to join Him in supporting Jesus as He in the Spirit now journeys close to all kinds of people to bring them “glad tidings of great joy.” Can you think of anyone who God maybe giving you a nudge to reach out to?

Jesus’ journey did not end on that first Christmas but continues today. He still seeks to journey into people’s lives to light their way, tell them God is good, and bring them God’s promise that He is coming soon to reign.

Let us pray.

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