Sermon on Christmas Eve 2022

(6 pm, Christuskirche Detmold, by Dieter Bökemeier, Pastor for Diakonia, Ecumenical Relations and Migration of the Lippische Landeskirche)

Dear sisters and brothers,
Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angel: wonderful – and then in such a variety of languages! Thank you to all those who took part in the scenic play.

It is good to see and listen to these main characters of whom the Christmas story tells. For they truly deserve it, Miriam, unmarried pregnant, Joseph, a small craftsman from an insignificant town in the north of Israel. And a few rough shepherds from the steppes in the south near Bethlehem.

Yes, they deserved to have a story told about them, the story about the Incarnation of God. Because normally people like them were not at the centre of events.

Those around whom everything usually revolves are briefly mentioned at the beginning of the Christmas story: ” In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree… This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria “.

The Roman Emperor Augustus is actually to blame for the fact that the heavily pregnant Miriam has to go with her fiancé to sign up for some stupid tax lists in the south of the country: 150 kilometres on foot, 5 days of tough marching, there is not even any mention of a donkey as a mount in the story.

And all because of some emperor in faraway Rome. Because of the head of state of a brutal occupying power that needs more money for its legions in order to be able to oppress the conquered country even more effectively. That’s what the tax lists are all about: the Romans need money.

And the shepherds? They were among the poor at that time anyway and were rather known as uncouth fellows.

So Miriam, Joseph, the shepherds: basically powerless people who were helplessly at the mercy of the circumstances of their time.

And that’s exactly where I find myself today: this helplessness in the face of all these problems that are piling up on us. This feeling: Something is going thoroughly wrong in this world and I can’t change anything.

First comes a virus like this, perhaps because we are constricting nature too much – as humanity, not me personally, I try to think. Two difficult years of pandemic followed. Then people hoped things would finally get better.

And then along comes some present-day emperor in a present-day capital city who thinks he can invade and conquer his neighbouring country. War, suffering, death follow. Worldwide consequences follow, such as hunger in poorer countries… And for us, price increases follow that make us shudder.

And finally, there is the climate crisis, which is coming sooner than many thought. What good are our own small attempts to save energy?

It all makes you feel so powerless. You feel so at the mercy of these big developments these days. And then you try to somehow come to terms with all these things that are coming at you.

Just as Mirjam and Joseph had to come to terms with this imperial idea with the tax lists. And they just went on their way. For better or worse – with a grumble in their stomachs, but helpless.

Dear sisters and brothers, I find it significant that the great story of how God comes to mankind begins in exactly this way, with the helplessness of two people at the mercy of great developments.

It is precisely this perspective that God chooses to come into the world. God mingles, as it were, with those who powerlessly have to pay the price for what a foreign ruler has devised. God walks with Mirjam and Joseph for the five long, arduous days. God shares their homelessness in overcrowded Bethlehem. God also appears out in the open to the shepherds who have no influence and who did not choose their poor life.

But in the end, and this is the point: in the end, God turns it into something completely new. God transforms, so to speak, the idea of rule of a brutal Caesar into something that will beneficially change the world.

That is the core of the message tonight too: God comes close to us, I mean really close in all the mess we are living in.

God also takes our worries about high energy costs very personally. And he senses the underlying fear of how we are to manage and endure it all.

It is precisely in our places of powerlessness and uncertainty that God suddenly appears – very small at first. But this is precisely what gives rise to hope.

Who would have thought, for example, that what began so powerlessly in Bethlehem would one day change the world? Yes, even reach the imperial throne in Rome?

Who would have thought that Jesus’ ideas such as renouncing violence and the dignity of every human being would become the foundations of the world community? At least in theory – but still!

Who would have thought that the people finally seem to have understood the necessity of climate protection? Yes, much too slowly, still, only small step by small step, but finally something seems to be moving.

Who would have thought that courageous women – and also men – would shake the religious dictatorship in Iran? Our brothers and sisters from the Persian Bible Circle know them, hope with them so fervently.

Who would have thought that Putin seems to have miscalculated so much after all?

Yes, and we also show solidarity when it comes to high energy costs.
I am referring to the campaign “Wärmewinter” in our congregations and the fundraising campaign “Wärme für Lippe” (Warmth for Lippe) or Detmold gibt Wärme (Detmold gives warmth), which we also help to shape as Lippe Church.

Dear sisters and brothers,
God deliberately chooses our powerlessness for his coming into this world – but it is precisely through this that something begins to change.

In any case, I would like to encourage you to look forward in these oppressive times. God does not leave you and me alone, just as he did not leave Miriam and Joseph and the shepherds alone.

God does not leave you and me alone with personal worries either, I mean beyond the big questions that frighten us. The personal and everyday worries, just like Miriam and Joseph had. Where to get nappies, a bed for the newborn, the uncertain perspective later back in Nazareth with an illegitimate child. These are things that can really torment you.

God also shares these worries, makes them his own, and makes them a little more bearable through his nearness. God comes in small ways, but that will also make the difference in your life and mine and change something.

That is why we tell the story of Mary and Joseph. Because God puts them in the centre! And that is why the angel says to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid!” Or in a positive way: “I proclaim great joy to you, which will be for all the people.”