Exceeding Expectations               Luke 2:15-20

Christmas Day                                    December 25, 2022,                St. John, New Orleans, LA

Well, times up! If you don't have your presents yet it's too late. 

Everything is closed but the gas stations and no one wants the gas station gift. 

Tomorrow starts the day of big returns. 

But with the Christmas shopping you completed, were you offered any extended warranties? 

Did product guarantees factor into any of your purchase decisions? 

Whether it's buying for us or others, 

we tend to buy things that we believe will last and not be a waste of money.

We have an expectation of certain results for anything we purchase or invest in.

So, what are your expectations of Christmas this year?  

What guarantees have you arranged that the day will go as you had hoped?

Is it a repeat of Christmases past? 

If so, I hope that's a good thing.

Or, is it something that you would rather just skip if you could? 

Maybe you have plans to change things up this year? 

Either by varying the menu or the gift exchange, 

or perhaps someone else is hosting your celebrations. 

How about spiritually? 

Is it more about the familiarity and coziness of the carols and readings? 

Or are you seeking an encounter with the divine? 

It might be all, or none of, the above. 

But I guarantee you have an expectation. 

Even if that expectation is that nothing will happen or change in your life. 

This morning we hear once again about the shepherds. And we have a certain expectation about what we will hear concerning them. 

Last night they were, “out in their fields, keeping watch...” 

they were minding their own business when the angels gave them the big announcement. 

They received the word that Jesus was born and then the sky filled with singing Angel choirs. 

But now this morning they are the ones delivering the good news. 

After seeing the baby with their own eyes, they left the stable, 

and as they returned to their flocks, they told others about their amazing night! 

The content was familiar: a savior was promised to Israel. 

It was a promise retold to each generation and reinforced in every household. 

Everyone knew the savior would come, but no one thought it would be in their own time and in their own town. 

But today some shepherds claim that they have seen and worshipped the newborn savior. 

Being shepherds, they may not have been thought of as likely heralds of this news, 

yet, as they make their way back to their sheep, “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”

Hmm. That's what they said... “hmm, I wonder...” 

wonderment is a pondering of the possibilities. 

We wonder what a vacation to an exotic tropical island might be like. 

We wonder what it would be like to be independently wealthy or to win the lottery. 

But put yourself in the mind of a first century resident of Bethlehem. 

It's a little town and nothing ever happens there. 

It's famous because King David was raised there, 

but he moved to nearby Jerusalem, of course,

 to be close to the Tabernacle. 

The prophets said the Messiah would be from David's line, 

but if you noticed, there are lots of those descendants filling the inns, gathered for the census. 

And yet, we hear that one of them has given birth to day... here... During the census?

 Hmm. I wonder... If this was simply the perfect time for the savior to be born?

Isaiah and the prophets long preached about better days ahead for Israel. 

It's been great to have all the extended family together in Bethlehem. 

But perhaps this reunion is more about God than Caesar? 

Those shepherds even said angels made the announcement. 

Who would joke about such a thing? They wouldn't. It would be blasphemous. 

One or two of them could have maybe been confused, but all of them attest to the same vision

And their stories match with each other and with the prophets.

Of course, we on the other side of history have a different perspective of the same event.

We know his salvation would be through conquering sin and death, not mortal enemies of Israel. 

That his sinless life would make him unworthy of death on the cross. 

In the opposite way that our sin bars us from eternal life in heaven,

His Holiness should have kept him from death and hell. 

Yet, he willingly took on both to break the chains of sin that bind us to eternal death.

And because of that eternal salvation earned for us by Jesus, Paul says we became, “heirs according to the hope of eternal light.”

 while the Old Testament prayed and longed for a land at peace with the world, 

in Jesus, God delivered a savior who delivered hope that extends beyond time and place. 

Jesus comes into the world, not to bring peace to a small sliver of Palestine, 

but to restore all of creation to himself forever.

Hmm. I wonder... What does peace mean for us today? What would peace be for you? 

What would be the extended warranty that God could offer which would be helpful for you? 

Think about that for a moment... 

What broken aspect of your life, or this world disrupts your peace? 

Having identified this disruption, what if I told you Jesus was born today to replace that disruption with hope? 

And as you consider these questions, be careful to not fall into the Old Testament trap 

that Jesus came only for earthly restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, 

and that his solutions are only manifested in our own time. 

on this Christmas Day, we have to consider that salvation, while assured, may not be obvious. 

I'm sure some of those shepherds never heard of Jesus after that night. 

Yet they died believing in him and entered their eternal peace with him. 

And even as we look to him for healing, forgiveness, and a better life, 

we have to accept that much of our hope will not be realized until the last day.

But this does not mean our faith is in vain in this time and place and in the age before his judgment. 

Because not all of his rewards are delayed for the resurrection. 

He gives peace now through the word and sacraments. 

He bolsters our hope through the work of his church. 

And he intervenes personally to comfort and heal us through the ministrations of other believers who shower his loving care upon us.

Isaiah and the prophets longed for better days ahead for Israel through the Messiah. 

Jesus proved every day he walked this earth that he was the Messiah. 

And because we believe he is the Messiah we have the hope of endless days with him through faith. 

Thanks be to God! Glory to God in the highest. Amen.