Summary: A Christmas Eve sermon preached Christmas Eve, 2008 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran CHurch, Audubon, IA. It looks at the nativity scene.
While the birth of our Savior took place over 2000 years ago, I want to begin our Christmas sermon a little more recently. It’s the fall of 1944. Eduard Kaib, an architecht who was serving as a non-commissioned officer in the German army, had been captured by American forces in combat. Kaib became a Prisoner of War, and was sent to the United States to work in a POW Camp. Kaib was one of 3200 German POW’s assigned to work in the camp that was built near Algona, Iowa, in Kossuth County named Camp Algona. Here he was, halfway around the world, separated from loved ones, not knowing when the war would end and when he could be free from living his life behind barbed wire. As fall came, the realization that he would be spending Christmas away from home began to set in. He missed his home, his family, the special Christmas services in his church, and all the happy festivities of the season. So too did many of his friends in the POW camp. To say that it looked like there would be little, if any, joy to be found that Christmas in the camp would be an understatement. So, Kaib and his friends decided to do something about it. They worked long hours to create half life-sized figures to create a nativity scene. Made of concrete on a wire frame, and finished with hand carving in plaster, the scene began to recreate that first Christmas night. They put the baby Jesus at the center, situated on straw, with Mary, Joseph, and kneeling shepherds on either side. The wise men could be seen, approaching with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Behind them, camels being led by their drivers were traveling to the Christ Child, while shepherds are seated at a campfire listening to the news in our Gospel reading for tonight that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Kaib and his friends paid for the materials with their own money, and found some level of joy in recreating that first Christmas with these figurines.
Out of all the things that could bring some level of joy to some prisoners of war, why did they choose to create this nativity scene? Especially in the midst of war, a time when it would be easy for them to doubt “peace on earth, good will toward men” that we typically associate with Christmas?
Today, we see a lot of nativity scenes, you may have noticed the beautiful scene we have displayed outside of the church, which has been given in memory of our departed loved ones. In a few moments, Marcus, Stephanie, and Anders Lange will be out here, dressed as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, to be a “live” nativity scene. Why do we love that scene so much? But more importantly, what do you think when you look at such a scene? That’s what we’re going to talk about a bit this evening.
In our Gospel reading for tonight, Mary and Joseph are making the long, arduous trip to Bethlehem to register for a census that had been ordered by the Roman authorities. Mary was pregnant, about to give birth to a baby boy. Her and Joseph had already been through quite a bit. First, an angel declared to Mary that she would be the mother of the long promised Savior, and give the baby the name Jesus. Her virtue would still be intact, but that would not shield her from the accusations of adultery, an offense punishable by stoning the offender to death. Even Joseph himself was skeptical at first when Mary told him that she was expecting a child out of wedlock. In fact, Joseph went so far as to seek to secretly divorce Mary, to save himself the shame, yet to also be merciful to Mary, to prevent her from facing being stoned to death. Yet, an angel appeared to Joseph, confirming to him the exact thing Mary had told him, that indeed, the child conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit. Now, Joseph found himself defending the very story that he himself didn’t’ believe at first. No doubt, a lot of people in Nazareth thought the couple had lost their marbles so to speak. Mary and Joseph I am sure had to endure the whispers behind their backs, those silent glares from others that say more than a thousand words could ever say. Mary and Joseph were now considered “those people”, the kind that we tend to think less of than ourselves by the Nazareth population. They may have even faced the scorn of their own families for all we know. No doubt, living in that kind of an environment in a small community was difficult enough, considering the circumstances, knowing that the explanation “Yes, Mary’s pregnant, no it’s not Joseph’s child, but that’s okay because an angel told us that the child is from the Holy Spirit” wasn’t going to be a story many, if anyone, in town would believe.