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  • Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Imagine the Interruption

Advent – Generation to Generation, for Christmas Eve, after an Advent season of sermons, preached Dec 24, 2022 at the 8:00pm Worship

Context


Prayer


Scripture Luke 2:8-20

8 Now in that same 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,[b] 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,[c] praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”[d]


15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s 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 and 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, just as it had been told them.


This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)


Sermon Imagine the Interruption

Imagine with me a moment. Younger ones, imagine you are at school. Put yourself in the hallways or classrooms. Surround yourself with classmates, friends, and teachers. Older ones, imagine yourself at work, wherever that is, whenever that was. Put yourself in that space and surround yourself with coworkers, customers, or clients. Are you there?


Think about how the day probably started, the routines of getting ready, the habits we go through to get ourselves and things out the door. There’s a start time to the day and rough schedule, when you will be here with those people and when you will move there with others. There are tasks to complete, some routine that repeat, some bigger that require planning and piece-by-piece effort. There’s a finish time when you’re not obligated to be there, when you are free to go. Put yourself in the middle of it all. Are you there yet?


Good, then you are with the shepherds. They too had gone through the normal routines to get ready, had clocked in, and were in the middle of their shift. They were completing routine tasks, moving through the time beside each other, and taking care of responsibilities. Morning, the end of their shift, was coming but too far away to think about. Then, the great interruption.


I’m not very good with interruptions. Most of the important tasks I need to complete as a pastor involve reading something carefully, planning something thoroughly, or listening intently and responding gently, theologically to someone. I find interruptions break my ability to be perceptive and focused, patient and careful. Patti has made a sign for my door that helps folk know this about me. If the door is open, come on in, but if its closed, Joel needs uninterrupted time.


I wonder if any of you have an aversion to interruptions. I wonder if the shepherds were like me. If so, the angels didn’t read the sign.


Were you at school? Imagine the teacher teaching and guiding yall through some kind of exercise and discussion. You’re a bit confused and a bit bored. But you’re absorbing some of what she is saying. Your friend at the desk beside you leans over to ask you a question and you’re about to respond when five or six kindergarteners burst through the door with huge smiles on their faces and excitement bursting from every pore. They are loud and talking on top of one another. You can only catch snippets… something about a baby, born, just now, in the back of a truck, out by the football field.


Were you at work? Imagine you spent the morning clicking through emails, responding quickly to easy ones, going back through to spend a bit more time with tougher ones. You answered a few phone calls too, and helped with some, but got new to-do items from the others. You’re in the middle of the big monthly staff meeting where every client and project is reviewed to see if we are on budget and schedule. Then, three homeless folk, giddy and bouncing, burst into the conference room talking crazy fast and all at the same time. It's hard to understand, but you catch something about a baby, born just now, in the alley, by the dumpster.


For some strange reason, we interrupt with this story of a babe born in manger, every year. We imagine shepherds in the field, right where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing, in the middle of their shift, getting radically interrupted by a bunch of weirdos about the birth of a poor, immigrant baby, in a barn. It's not a famous baby, like when Prince Harry and Meghan had a baby. When people of that stature have a baby, there is an expected explosion in the Twitter-verse, and every news website and broadcast starts with the story of that baby. But these aren’t mainstream media reporters or Instagram influencers. These are oddball unexpected strangers. And this isn’t the child of a billionaire, or royalty, or famous actor or musician. This is a poor, immigrant child born in sad, ridiculous conditions. There’s no traditional, hand-embroidered birth gown at the finest hospital, just bands of cloth and a manger out back, for God’s sake.


And yet, we tell this story every year. Why?


Because, no matter how many times we go through the routines of this life, we are desperate to hear God interrupt and call our attention to the beautiful, the holy, the hopeful.


Because, no matter how hard this world might sell us fame, power, and money are what matter, we are desperate to see God give special attention to the simple, the least, the littlest, to folks like us.


Because, no matter how far away or unbelievable this great and powerful God might feel sometimes, we are desperate to believe God wants this badly to be with us, and in honest, loving relationship with us always.


We tell this story because we need to hear it again and again. “Amidst all the cultural and commercial layers of the holiday season,” this story reminds us… loving relationships matter more than traditions or tasks.


“We tell this story because it is raw with joy, pain, and the complexities of being human.” No matter how awkwardly or painfully our own lives may be unfolding, this story reminds us… God knows life in all its complexities and is with us all the way through and beyond.


We tell this story because in it, “God shows up in a child who cries, in hands that hold, in human flesh.” No matter how diligently social media, algorithms, and screens demand our attention, this story reminds us to be present with one another in the flesh, give the gift of eye contact, whole body listening, laughter, and a sincere hug, and celebrate when others give those to us.


Tonight, we are not at work or school. We are at church. The preacher is talking. We are going through the motions of singing, reading, praying, about half way through. Now imagine, a few unexpected strangers rush through the Narthex doors and into the the sanctuary. Are you startled, afraid even? Now imagine hearing them say something about a child born to an immigrant worker in a tool shed on a local farm… a child born to a homeless woman in the breezeway downtown by Dunkin Donuts… a child born to a teenage girl behind Dollar General across from the trailer park…


How would we feel? Afraid of the intruders? Frustrated by the interruption? Doubtful of the truth or importance of their message?


What would we say? Who are you? SHHHHHH! Just a minute!


What would we do? I pray we’d pause whatever we are doing, receive the holy interruption, and go with haste to witness what God is doing to be with us, again and always.


To the God who aches to love us and be loved by us… Amen? Amen.


Charge


Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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