Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2022
Image of a tent. Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Have you ever been camping?
Although I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, I was never much of an outdoorsy child. I enjoyed the great outdoors to a certain extent, but I was afraid of bugs and creepy crawly things. I was always more of an “indoor” kid, happy to be curled up on the couch with a good book.
Still, I think many children enjoy adventure and novelty, so I was in good company when my parents packed me off to Wesley Forest Church camp. I was always excited to be trying something new.
One evening, the counselors told all the kids that we had the option of going on a “camp out,” where we would sleep in the woods in what they called “a real tepee.” We would grow closer to God by spending time in nature.
I thought this sounded like fun, so I signed up for this big adventure. At first it started out great. We roasted marshmallows and made mountain pies. But then, it was time for bed.
We curled up on the ground beneath the shelter of the tepee and laid our sleeping bags on the leafy ground. Before long, I was certain that I could feel the bugs crawling all over me. The wind picked up and I started to hear eerie sounds in the forest. I could hear things moving around out there. I was afraid.
As everyone else settled down and started to fall asleep, I looked up through the hole in the ceiling and tried to see the stars. But the sky was cloudy. A dark cloud covered the moon.
“What happens if it rains?” I asked the counselor.
“Then we get wet,” she replied.
It did rain. And I hardly got any sleep that night. I was bothered by the bugs, the cold, and the light rain that came down through the opening in the roof.
I was glad when the night was over. But as we packed up our bags and prepared to hike back to camp, the counselors talked about how the tepee was modeled on the real tepees used by Native Americans who lived out west. It could be disassembled and carried with them as they traveled across the great plains.
II. God will “pitch His tent” among us.
This evening, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the wonder of the incarnation, I can’t help but think of that uncomfortable camping trip I went on so many years ago. Even though I was frightened and uncomfortable, I cannot deny that I felt God’s presence there with us in the woods on the dark and dreary night. As the scripture says, “where two or three are gather in My name, there I am with them (Matthew 18:20).”
In fact, it turns out that God knows a lot about camping. In our modern world, we have a tendency to try to confine God to our holy spaces and churches. But God is with us always and everywhere, from generation to generation.
John summarizes the joy and wonder of the incarnation in his Gospel when he writes, says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14, NRSV).” According to Sherri Brown at Working Preacher, the verb here in this sentence is the Greek verb skenoo, which can also be translated as to “pitch a tent,” although it iis generally translated as “lived” or “made his dwelling.” John’s verb choice, however, resonates “with Exodus 33-40, where God renews the covenant with Israel mediated by Moses, and the people are told to make a tent (the tabernacle, the skene,) so that God can live among them.” ( Source: Commentary on John 1:1-9, 10-18 at Working Preacher https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-christmas/commentary-on-john-11-9-10-18-7 )
III. God Journeys with Us
For many of us, life starts out like a big adventure. As we continue our journey of life, it doesn’t take long before we find ourselves experiencing darkness and challenges. But on Christmas, we are reminded that we are never alone. God travels with us. No matter where the journey of life takes us, we rejoice because God loves us enough to be with us. Because of the incarnation, God knows what is to suffer and hurt. God who took on human flesh travels with us through the journeys of our lives.
Sometimes these journeys are literal—and sometimes they are physically, emotional, or spiritual. Yet whether we go to the depths of the ocean or the peak of the highest mountain, God is with us.
KEY IDEA: *On Christmas, God stepped down into the dirt and dust of creation and set up camp among us. God pitches His tent among us. Wherever the journey of life takes us, God picks up camp and journeys with us. For this we give thanks, and we rejoice.
Image of a nativity scene. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
III. The Journey to Bethlehem
I am sure that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was grateful that God traveled with her and Joseph on their long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I am certain that Mary rejoiced over the birth of her firstborn Son, but I think she worried and fretted as well.
Expecting a baby changes lives. In today’s world, we plan for a baby for months and sometimes years in advance.
I’m sure that Mary had her own hopes, thoughts, and dreams for how the birth of her first child would go… I would argue that she planned on giving birth in her hometown of Nazareth, among her family, with people she knew.
I wonder if Mary was tired and frustrated on that long journey, which historians tell us could take as long a nine days. Right now, one of my best friends is expecting. I asked her how she would feel if she had to make a journey of nine days, probably on the back of a donkey.
“You’re kidding me,” she said. “My feet are swollen and I’m sick all the time as it is. There is no way you’d get me on a donkey. The only place I want to go right now is bed and stay there.”
I wonder if Mary just wanted to stay in bed where it was safe and warm and wait for her baby to come. But instead, Mary found herself giving birth in a barn, because there was no room for them in the guest room of Joseph’s family’s house or the inn, depending on what translation you are using.
At least there, among the livestock, the holy family had each other. And they had God. When baby Jesus at last came into the world, completely human and completely divine, God pitched his tent among us. He came down to earth because he loved us too much to leave us alone in the dark and worry of this world.
Babies change lives. The birth of the Christ child changed EVERYTHING.
This Christmas Eve, allow me to proclaim to you the Good News of Christ’s birth. Feel it in your hearts and your souls. Take comfort and rejoice.
God loves us so much that He doesn’t leave us to wander alone. God can take anything in this world—even the decrees of a corrupt Roman ruler—and transform them to fulfill His purposes.
Christ’s birth in a barn shows all the world that Jesus came to save ALL people, not just the wealthy. The fact that he was laid in a manger, a food trough for animals, shows that he came to be bread for the world.
No matter where you find yourself on the journey of life, rejoice and be glad, for you are blessed by God’s love.
Whatever darkeness you are facing, whatever challenges come against you, take comfort, because we are not alone. Jesus Christ, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace is with us every step of the way.
On this Christmas Eve, I encourage you to invite Christ to pitch his tent in your heart. Take comfort that wherever the journey of life takes us, Christ sets up camp right alongside us, in the midst of our pain, our sorrow, our fear, as well as our rejoicing.
Thanks be to God, for unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is Given.
He is Emmanuel, God with us.
And we are not alone.
Let Us Pray:
O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and pitch your tent in our hearts. Make camp at the very center of our lives. We welcome you, and we rejoice that you travel with us, even into the darkest valley. We thank you, O Holy One, that we are never alone. Amen.
Journey to Bethlehem by Adam Hamilton
Commentary on John 1:1-9, 10-18 at Working Preacher https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-christmas/commentary-on-john-11-9-10-18-7 )
4 thoughts on “Emmanuel: God Pitched His Tent Among Us”
Rebecca: Glenda and I are family campers. We started with a tent. When we graduated to a “pop-up” tent trailer with a little kitchen (no bathroom), my mother-in-law commented, “this isn’t camping”. I guess she thought we should be in the dirt and the bugs.
I wonder what she would say now about our 32 foot motorhome? From your description of your “love” of camping, I think motorhome camping would be more your speed. At sixty-two, it certainly is mine! The motorhome is like an apartment on wheels, complete with a backup generator.
Your sermon, with this camping metaphor, really connects with me!! Stumpy, “We are God’s workmanship created for good works in Christ.”
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Thank you so much for your kind words! I always stress over my homilies for Christmas and Easter. Your camper sounds like just my speed for camping!
It could be lived in full time if one were so inclined. We are tempted to do so in the early years of retirement, but we think we will need a “home base”. So, we probably won’t ever be “full-timers” but we may live in it for long stretches, including a “snowbird” trip January through March somewhere South, like Florida or Arizona. So far, the longest we lived in it is five weeks. We did very well!
Stumpy, “We are God’s workmanship created for good works in Christ.”
On Tue, Dec 27, 2022 at 1:17 PM Rev. Rebecca Writes < email@example.com> wrote:
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Stumpy and Glenda: the nomads Stumpy, “We are God’s workmanship created for good works in Christ.”
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