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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way…

Luke 2:1-20

God has this tendency to really mess things up.

I mean, look at Mary’s life.  Everything was going beautifully.  She had a plan.  She was ready to be married to Joseph and settle down and have babies with him and live a life of respect honor and peace and tranquility.  And then this angel shows up with this message from God.  And messes up everything!

And look at Joseph’s life.  Here was this well-respected carpenter, ready to be married to a young woman, when Mary came to him with this news that was – let’s face it – difficult to believe.  But he had a plan.  He was going to divorce her quietly.  She meant too much to him to expose her publically, but she wasn’t going to take him down with her through her infidelity.  He had a reputation and a business and a trade.  So he had a plan.  And then this angel shows up with this message from God.  And messes up everything!

And the shepherds.  Here they were, settling in for the night, ready to get a good night’s sleep.  They had a plan.  They had braced themselves against the cold of the hillside and prepared for another night of the difficult work of guarding the sheep, taking turns in order to get everyone enough rest.  The next day, they would shepherd the flock, looking for water and pastureland and fighting wild animals and angry landowners and sheep that had a tendency to wander off.  And then these angels show up with a message from God.  And mess up everything!

And even the little town of Bethlehem had a plan.  A part of the kingdom of Caesar, in the Roman world of Pax Romana.  Everything belonged to the kingdom of peace.  Everyone believed in the power of Rome, the power of Caesar.  Of course, if they didn’t, they were made to believe.  And so Bethlehem followed suit with the command to conduct a census.  Registering.  Tallying.  Taxing.  Creating order out of the disorder of this backwoods town.  And then this baby shows up – a message from God.  And messes up everything!

Babies have this tendency to mess things up, as well, don’t they?  Routines.  Career goals.  Ordered, structured lives.  Financial planning.  It is no wonder that the God who so often chooses to mess up our well-laid plans chose to do it with a baby.  In the lives of Mary and Joseph and all who are a part of this story, it is clear that God is the Holy Interrupter.

They had expectations and routines and hopes and dreams.  They had plans.  But God interrupted their plans.  And gave them new ones.

You will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus….

You will take Mary as your wife, and she will bear a son…

Born unto you this day in the City of David….

Each of the figures in the Christmas story had their lives figured out.  Elizabeth.  Zachariah.  Mary.  Joseph.  The shepherds.  The city of Bethlehem.  They had settled on their normal.  Their comfortable.   Their equilibrium.  Their homeostasis.  And then God shows up.  And interrupts them.  Disrupts them.  Shakes things up.  Creates disequilibrium.

This is the story of the Gospel Luke at its very core.  Even in its grammatical composition!  Luke begins his Gospel in chapter 1 in same grammar and style of the Greek Old Testament.  But then, in the first verse of chapter 2, he starts over.  A new grammar.  New style.  New syntax.  Almost a new language.  How better to describe that the coming of Christ symbolizes an interruption…a disruption?

This is the way that God so often works, right?  We think we have everything figured out.  Life settled.  We are in control.  And then God the Interrupter comes in and messes with everything!

A new job.  A new relationship.  A new baby.  A new challenge.  A new success.  And for those of us who like to have things…tidy…clear…well-organized….we have this tendency to get ticked off at life when it happens like this.  “But I had a plan!” we cry.

But God is a God of interruptions.  God is a God of untidiness.  How else do you describe an Incarnation story like the one we celebrate at Christmas?  It is a story of interruptions and untidiness and disrupted expectations.  Hear the words of Aaron Klink:

Too often we look for God in the beautiful, in the times and places we set out to seek God.  It is also important to remember that God seeks us.  Think about the ways that you have seen God move unexpectedly, a moment that you were least expecting the Holy but found the Holy.  The shepherds…had apparently not been waiting or praying for a message.  Rather God’s message interrupted them right where they were in order to announce God’s work.

“A moment that you were least expecting the Holy but found the Holy.”  I used to get mad at interruptions in my ministry.  I had a routine and a schedule and a set of expectations.  When someone would stop into my office unannounced, or ask me to do something that I hadn’t planned to do, or send me an email that wasn’t expected, I got angry.  Didn’t they know that I was trying to do the work of God here?  How dare they get in my way?  God’s way?

Somewhere along the way, I realized those interruptions were some of the most important opportunities I had to see God at work, and maybe even for me to participate in that work.  I think it was Sandy Heacock who has said this most succinctly: “I used to resent interruptions to my ministry, and then I realized that those interruptions were my ministry.”  They were ways to see God molding me and others through me.  God the Interrupter strikes again.

And one does not have to be on staff of a church for God to use us, and change us, and interrupt us.  It is so often the way that the work of God gets done…in the interruptions.

Now, let me make a couple of clarifications.  First, I don’t think God calls us to change our personalities to start disliking order or routine.  For some of us, it is the way we make sense of life.  In fact, there might be some of you this season that are simply exhausted by too many interruptions.  Too many disruptions.  Too little order.  Too little left of your self at the center.  God is not calling you to stop making lists or enjoying routine or being who you were created to be.

Yet, in the midst of the interruptions that will come – like it or not – God calls us to listen for the Holy in the midst of the disruption.  God calls us to trust in the Holy in the midst of the interruptions.  For it is so often the work of the Holy Spirit who moves through those interruptions to bring about just the right change or movement or transformation in our lives, or in the lives of those around us.  Because we saw the disruption as something more than an annoyance or distraction to our plan.

Likewise, I would also clarify that I don’t think that every interruption is the work of God.  I know many of your stories and I know that so many of them include life interruptions that are frankly not Holy Moments.  The doctor confirms the diagnosis.  Your spouse asks for the divorce.  You get the call with devastating news about your loved one.  I don’t know about you, but I cannot accept a theology that suggests that these interruptions are simply God at work – destroying our lives in order to teach us a lesson, or change us, or mold us.  For God is a God of peace and healing and restoration and I cannot suggest that when disastrous interruptions strike, then it is simply God giving us something new to think about.  For many of our interruptions are a destruction of our wholeness or our health and our God is not a God of destruction.  I don’t believe that God takes apart our lives, as a child would break apart his Legos for the fun of seeing them scatter.

But again, in the disruptions that will come – like it or not – we can still look for God at work.  It is the way of Christmas.  Again, it is Aaron Klink again that names the distinction:

 Even if things do not go as planned, new life breaks forth.  Jesus, God’s work, arrived in the midst of political events and no vacancies.  The important message of Christmas is that even when things do not go as planned, God arrives.  We forget the scary nature of the first Christmas – that it was all about things that were unexpected, in places unsought.  Christ arrived in a manger, in a cattle stall.  If the Son of God can arrive in such circumstances, so can truth.  So can joy.

·         So, this Christmas Eve, I invite us to look for God in the midst of those interruptions.

  • Let us look for God in the midst of unexpected places and unsought people.
  • Let us look for the face of God in the faces of those who are hurting and afraid and lonely and rejected.
  • Let us look for God when things do not go as we had hoped or thought or planned that they would.
  • Let us look for God when the structures of this world are turned upside down and those who are powerful are toppled and those who are powerless are lifted up.

For maybe it is simply the work of God the Interrupter, changing plans and recasting visions and making new ways in the desert.  Because so often, it is there – on the way somewhere else – that we find God.

·         For Mary, on the way to a peaceful life, found instead the joy of giving birth to the Prince of Peace.

  • For Joseph, on the way to an honorable way out, found instead the honor of adopting the Son of God as his son.
  • For the shepherds, on the way to a quiet night’s sleep, found instead the quietness of a babe lying in a manger.
  • And for the little town of Bethlehem, on her way to finding her identity in the order and structure of a census, found instead, in the chaos of shepherds running with abandon through the streets, her new identity – as the birthplace of a Holy Interruption.
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