Sermon for Christmas Eve,  December 24, 2021 – “A Gentle Christmas”

Nativity of Our Lord –Good Shepherd Lutheran Church 

Decorah, Iowa – Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read the Christmas story according to Luke.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus, God with us.

Last week someone said to me, have a Gentle Christmas. That felt like such a kindness. Sometimes a Merry Christmas feels out of reach, but a gentle one would be a real gift. I’ve been saying that to people ever since and they’ve all taken a deep breath, almost a sigh of relief.


It seems that collectively we are feeling pretty vulnerable and raw and longing for some gentleness. The Christmas story meets us right where we are. It is incredibly tender and sweet, and we need that. Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds and angels – we need the gentle simplicity of this story. It is a relief to let it wash over us. Tonight, the story, the carols, the music, the candle- light in the sanctuary or in your home these are all gentle gifts to nourish your soul. Yet, the story also enters right into our own complicated lives. Or more to the point, the story reveals that God enters right into our complicated lives.


As Jesus is born, I imagine Mary and Joseph are feeling pretty vulnerable. Almost nothing about their pregnancy has gone as planned. They’re engaged and expecting children, after their marriage, but then they learn Mary will give birth to God’s son. Once they come to grips with that startling news, they likely expect Mary will deliver the baby at home surrounded by her mother, a midwife, and other women. Instead, harsh political realities cause major upheavals for everyone. 

A powerful man’s words mean they will have to walk for days to a faraway city, right before Mary is to deliver the child. Well then, perhaps they can hope for a welcome with relatives in the city of Joseph’s family? Apparently not. At least a room in which to deliver the child? No, not even that.

The only place remaining for Mary and Joseph is among the animals. There she gives birth. She lays her child in a manger, the animals’ feeding trough. As Mary places her son there, I imagine that she and Joseph worry: Will he be warm enough, will the animals wake him, will he be safe? I imagine they feel anger that circumstances have led them to this. I imagine they long for home, for family.

 A manger is no place for a child. A child placed in a manger is not where you’d expect to find God. Yet there is precisely where God shows up. God comes to vulnerable, struggling people placing their son in a manger. And not only that, God comes as that vulnerable baby. As Mary and Joseph gaze upon their child in the manger, they are gazing upon God:

God, tiny and helpless; God who will soon need a change of swaddling clothes; God, completely and totally dependent, exposed, at risk. God has come to share our vulnerability. God has come to help us know, deep in our bones, that we are not alone.

When things are hard, it really helps for people to show up for us, to let us know they are with us.

It helps when people come to the funeral, bring food, or shovel the driveway, or call to ask, “How are you really?” When someone does this for you, they show you, hey, I’m here for you, we’re in  this together. This is what God does for us by becoming vulnerable, being born in a manger. God shows up to be with us in this whole fragile, raw, complicated life. God makes it real, makes it plain – hey, I am here, for you, we’re in this together. By being born in a manger, God also makes it clear that we’ll always find God in unlikely, humble, and fragile places.

God is found on the cross, amidst the suffering, in broken bread and wine poured out, in commu- nities of imperfect people, in those the world considers last and least. God is present in the hospi- tal waiting room, at the funeral, when that dreaded call comes, in the hard meeting. God is found in the war zone, at the border, in the courtroom. God is present in all of your placing a child-in-a-manger moments, whatever they might be.

God enters deep into the vulnerable, raw places of our world with such gentle love and compas- sion. And God’s presence changes things. Forgiveness happens. We taste mercy. Grace arises. We can be gentle with ourselves and others. Hope becomes possible. Love is born again. Joy erupts in the night.

God in a manger is good news of great joy for you. Even when life feels vulnerable and raw, especially when life feels vulnerable and raw, we can live with gentleness, with hope, with joy. Let this story, the music, the candles, the peace of this space wash over you and nourish you.

This is all we need for a gentle Christmas, and maybe even one that is merry and bright.