The Day After Christmas

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Mass At Midnight
December 25, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: The birth of Jesus did not change the outward circumstances of the people in Luke's narrative or of our lives. Nevertheless, the birth of the Messiah brought joy, presence and hope to everyone.

We gather this day to celebrate: singing, rejoicing, anticipating. Gifts likely wait for us back home. We put certain things on pause for Christmas, but do we dare ask about the day after Christmas? This year, not only will it be the day after Christmas, it will be a Monday. Some of us may not even get a three-day weekend. Life returns to "normal" shortly after Christmas. We may feel weary of all the hype by the time Christmas ends.

In any case, whatever uplift we receive from Christmas begins to fade, even though we have New Year's Eve shortly after. Maybe the question creeps into our heads: Did Christmas make any difference? Did Christmas change anything? The characters in our drama in Luke might have asked the same question. How did the birth of Jesus change anything?

No changes

We can start with Emperor Augustus. To this Roman emperor, the day of Jesus' birth probably made no ripple in his life. Caesar Augustus, or Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, considered it just another day. Having come to power after civil wars following Julius Caesar's death, he might have enjoyed any time of peace. Of course, to him, just another day would have seemed more momentous than the day of anyone else's life. His realm stretched over parts of three continents: Africa, Europe, Asia. He would have taken no notice of the birth of a lower-class boy in a small backwater of his domain. No heavenly chorus sang to him. He crawled into bed that night oblivious to God's action in Bethlehem. Perhaps he could not have found Bethlehem on a map without help. He awoke the next morning to his wealth and power. He awoke with an army just as mighty as the day before. He noticed no change in his life. The birth of Jesus never even became a blip on his radar screen.

What about Mary and Joseph, unnoticed by anyone much in the world? When the exalted Caesar Augustus issued a decree that everyone had to travel to their hometown to register for the census, they had no choice but to pack up and go. No matter how inconvenient, how odious the trip, they had to knuckle under and obey. They had no way to resist Rome's power. If we look at the pictures of the journey of Mary and Joseph produced by artists through the centuries, they almost all depict Mary astride a donkey that Joseph leads with a rope. As Luke unfolds his story, we can judge that such pictures are inaccurate. Poor Jewish inhabitants of the Roman empire did not dare purchase a donkey for travel. Roman soldiers might decide they wanted the donkey more than the Jewish people needed it. What could the Jewish donkey owner do? So, maybe, Luke wants us to picture them walking to Bethlehem. Mary, eight months and three weeks pregnant, slowly trudging step by step to Bethlehem. At least Mary didn't give birth on the trip! She went through the agony of childbirth after they arrived.

However surprising the visit of the shepherds might have seemed, the next day, the day after Jesus' birth, would have seemed no different than before. They had no more money, no more power. In Luke, no one gives them any gold, let alone any frankincense and myrrh. They still had to obey every command of the emperor. After the birth of baby Jesus, the hard work, the tasks of raising a baby went on as before.

The shepherds had a hard life. Almost certainly, they farmed their small parcel of land during the day and hired themselves out to watch sheep at night. Out under the open sky, guarding the sheep of people a couple of rungs higher on the economic ladder, they literally moonlighted. They must have struggled with fatigue, boredom and poverty. After working two jobs, the ends probably still didn't quite meet. The birth of Jesus did not expand the size of their small farms, did not deposit enough money in an account that they could turn in their resignation as night-shift shepherds. A few nights after the birth of Jesus, they still had to fight to stay awake through the night and find the energy to plow and plant the next day.

The birth of Jesus did not change the outward circumstances of the lives of the main characters in Luke's story. It did not chip away at the wealth and might of the empire. It did not bring balance to the power in the world. It did not break the yoke of oppression of the Romans over the Jewish people. All of that continued just as it had.

Does Christmas change anything for us?

What about in our world? Does Christmas change much of anything? Everything looks the same to us. The world's billionaires can still fly off into space. They still control a staggering percentage of the world's wealth. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the world's poor and oppressed still suffer. North Koreans still live under a brutal regime. Far too many people die from gun violence. Too many school children receive an inferior education. Too many babies to count still die of hunger before their first birthdays. Did the birth of Jesus change any of that? If we step back and look at the big picture, the world still looks like a brutal place, even after the birth of Jesus.

In our individual lives, the stress continues. We worry about money, about saving for retirement or living in retirement. The aches of our bodies continue to hurt. Our hearts still break from grief. We still miss the people we have lost. The ache of loneliness still hasn't gone away. We might still feel lost in a world overflowing with billions of people. The birth of Jesus has not taken away our grief, or the sufferings of our bodies, or our struggles with money.

Hold on to the story

Even though the outward circumstances of their lives had not changed, the shepherds had seen the angels. They had heard the voices from heaven, "I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." Maybe those words stayed with them. Who could have forgotten such an experience, such a message? Did that experience give them more patience with life? Did it give them more endurance for their weariness? Did it give them the assurance that God cared about them in the middle of their field with someone else's sheep? They knew that God had come into their world, noticed them and shared the joy of the birth of the Messiah.

Mary and Joseph still would have a hard life, but they had experienced the message of the shepherds, who told them of the visit of the angels. She treasured those words. Mary had heard the words of Gabriel, "The Lord is with you."1 Mary and Joseph could draw strength and purpose from those words. Those words could sustain them and give them purpose.

As we look at our seemingly unchanged world on the day after Christmas, we can hold on to this story. We can reach back to Gabriel's words to Mary that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones."2 We hear in that the message that God judges those who misuse power and wealth. If we feel pushed around, God has the last word. We claim the promise that God has "filled the hungry with good things."3 God will take care of those who do not have enough. We do not need to despair about those who exploit others, or about the ones exploited.

The outward circumstances of our lives may not have changed because of Christmas, either the first one or the one we celebrate this weekend. Nevertheless, we can face our lives with courage and strength. God has come into this painful world. Jesus and his parents have experienced the pain of our lives. God understands. God walks with us.

Let us rejoice in what God has done in Jesus, even if the world seems just as dangerous and wearying as it did before. Let us claim the power to stand up for those who need our voice, our actions. Let us take hope because God cares for us, because God wishes peace for us, because God looks upon us with favor. If it seems as though nothing has changed, let us open our eyes to the way everything has changed.


COVID-19 and Proclaim Sermons : We are very aware of the innovations pastors are making to bring their preaching directly into homes. We want to help in every way we can. Please feel free to use Proclaim Sermons in any way you need to in your efforts. This includes copying it into emails, using it in video broadcasts or on your website ... frankly, please use it however you think will best serve your congregation.