Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Alan Watt
Many years ago—during
my parish internship, my vicarage—I met some very interesting people. Among
them was a church member by the name of Bob Florstedt. One day, when we were
having a conversation, Bob suddenly interrupted me in mid-sentence—to tell me
I had just committed some grammatical error. He said, “Alan, you’re going to
be a pastor. And using words the right way is a big part of a pastor’s job.”
He was right about that. And I believe he was so insistent because of three
things: First, he was a retired college professor who had taught foreign
languages. Second, was the son of a minister. And third, well, he was just being
So this Christmas Eve
I’m going to talk about words—what they mean to us,how they help to describe
our emotions and our attitudes, and how they reveal our relationship to
God—especially to the Christ Child, God Incarnate, the Word made flesh….But,
first, a few words expressing what kind of year it’s been for many if not most
According to a survey by
a major newspaper, taken of over 2,000 peopleat the end of last month, here are
the most common words used to describe2017.[i]
All of them adjectives, they are grouped into 3 parts:
In the positive category: Good. Great! Awesome!
In the category of terms that are fairly neutral: Okay.
Interesting. Busy. Hectic. Eventful.
And in the negative category: Challenging. Disappointing.
Divisive. Unsettling. Turbulent! Chaotic! Crazy! Scary! Bad! Horrible! And,
Why these people who
were polled gave such a variety of answers—that depends on several factors.
Were they thinking mainly of their own personal lives? Or more in terms of
what’s going on in their communities, in the country, or in the world? Their
views, their perspectives are also a big part of the picture. Where are they
when it comes to the economy, politics, social values, race relations? How many
are among those who have been hard hit by hurricanes or wildfires? Those who
have lost loved ones to some form of violence? Or as casualties of the opioid
crisis? And what about those who get a diagnosis of a serious illness or a
Mary and Joseph and
most other Jews of their time certainly had their share of challenges and
problems. One was that journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem—when Mary was
“full of child.” You remember why they had to make that trip. The Roman
Empire was conducting a census—getting an accurate head count of everyone. It
all had to do with another way of collecting taxes…See? “The more things
change, the more they stay the same.”
But the main thing
that we see, that we hear in the gospel are words that bring to us so many good
things—things like good news, joy, and peace. And other words, too—about
things we can touch, feel, smell, and taste.
A newborn child, wrapped up in something like a blanket.
A newborn child, wrapped up in something like a blanket.
Soft hay, or maybe not so soft.
Smelly animals, and smelly shepherds, too.
And in the cold, night sky—not only bright stars, but an even
brighter angel, and then a whole chorus of angels.
But oddly enough,
those words—all of them nouns in the sentences in the passage—as important
as they are, aren’t the only ones that catch my eye. What I’m talking
about—and you might think this is strange—what I’m talking about are words
that are prepositions. That’s right. Prepositions. If you don’t quite
remember where they fit into the sentences that we speak and write and type out
on keyboards, here’s the definition—according to the Merriam-Webster
let’s try another definition. How about this one from the Oxford Dictionary?
preposition is a word such as after, in,
to, on, and with. Prepositions are
usually used in front of nouns or pronouns and they show the relationship
between the noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. They describe, for
The position of something…
The time when something happens…
The way in which something is
Is that a little
better than the first definition? Now, these are the three prepositions I want
to look at—one from Luke, another from Matthew, and the last from 1
Corinthians. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, he announced to
them:“…I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; unto
you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,
the Lord.” And so it is with all of us: Unto
you comes the Christ Child, the Word Incarnate, the Word made flesh.
Here’s the next
word—from Matthew: “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by
the Lord through the prophet [Isaiah]:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a son,
and they shall name him
which means, ‘God is
The same with you and
me. God is with us. Not in some far
off place—not in some spirit world.
But right here. And
right now. With us.
And, last, from 1
Corinthians: “…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf
of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body
that is [given] for
you.” You might be thinking: “Okay. But what in the world does that have to
do with this time of the year? That’s something for Holy Week—for the Last
Supper in the upper room. The prayer in the garden, the trial at the temple, the
crucifixion on the hill, the burial in the tomb. What’s all that have to do
with the baby in the manger in Bethlehem?”
This is what binds
them together: If God had not first become flesh and blood in order to dwell
among us, then how could he have ever given up his flesh, his blood, his very
being for our sake?
As our spiritual
ancestor, Martin Luther, once said:
Truly it is marvelous in our eyes that God should place a
little child in the lap of a virgin and that all our blessedness should lie in
And this Child belongs to all [human] kind. God feeds
the whole world through a Babe nursing at Mary’s breast.[ii]
In yet another way, as
another person—a pastor at a congregation in Churchbridge,
Saskatchewan—preached several Christmases ago:
“[Jesus] comes to
you through His Word.
“And each and every day, no matter how good or bad the day or
circumstances might be, God is with
If Bob Florstedt is looking down
at me right now from his heavenly home, I hope he’s saying to himself:
“Well, it looks like Alan’s grammar is just fine. But much, much more
important than that, he got the message right.” And that message is that
through the birth of the Christ Child…
God has come to
God is with
And God is for
[i] Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll among 2,036 U.S. adults, Nov. 28-29, 2017.
Martin Luther’s sermon, “Annunciation,” in The
Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H.
Bainton (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958): 23.
[ii] Martin Luther’s sermon, “Annunciation,” in The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H. Bainton (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958): 23.
The Rev. Jeff Dul, “God with You,” December 24, 2013.
[iii] The Rev. Jeff Dul, “God with You,” December 24, 2013.