What strikes me for tomorrow evening is how ripe this text is for the four-pages sermon.
1) The problem in the text is simple. Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem to be counted a Roman census. They are going at the whim of Augustus (who calls himself the son of god) so that his tax policy can be assured to keep them poor and powerless. Top that with the fact that it has been hundreds of years since the prophets made their promise of a Messiah, and 1st century Palestine is a very very dark place.
2) The problem in our world is pretty simple too. Two wars, financial uncertainty, health problems, kids with addictions, pirates, poverty, depression, etc. Top that with the fact that the last hundred years have brought about such technological advances as to force us into a keep up with the Jones' lifestyle that promises to keep us poor and powerless. 21st Century America is a pretty dark place. (This doesn't even touch the issues of extreme poverty in Latin and South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East).
3) The hope in the text is also simple. The angel choir and the great multitude sings the praises and tells the good news. "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill to all people." For in the city of bread a savior is born who is Christ the Lord; one who will feed us with his body and blood until he returns again with power and great triumph to restore all things according to God's perfect plan. Those who live in darkness have seen a great light because today, a child is born and hope has been restored.
4) The hope for our world is also simple. God became human, was laid in an animal's feed trough, lived in the nitty-gritty of 1st century Palestine, worked with his hands, and invites us into the messiness of life too. As Keith said a couple weeks ago, "God can do anything, but he doesn't do everything." He came to earth in ultimate weakness, a baby boy in an oppressed nation, and changed the world. Now, as we await his return, he empowers us to continue the work of setting all things right, of turning the upside-down right-side-up.
It is the same theme that our Sunday congregation has heard from me over and over again, but maybe this year our Christmas crowd needs to hear it. God comes in darkness and shines the light of hope. It doesn't happen all at once, but through his people the world is slowly but methodically being returned to the fullness of its created goodness.
Merry Christmas friends, and may God continue to bless you in the new year.