Prayer of Illumination
O Lord, even as you entered this world with your Son for our salvation, now enter our hearts and minds with your Spirit that we may hear and understand your word of joy. In the name of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, Amen.

Isaiah 9:2-7
2 [a]The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2:1-20
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a]the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b]praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Change is hard. Change is confusing. Change is disorienting. Like I said, change is difficult. Maybe life has changed for you due to a job? Maybe life has changed for you due to the death of a loved one? Maybe life has changed for you due to retirement? Again, change is hard. Change is confusing. Change in disorienting.

Fortunately, we’re not the first ones to discover this truth. Back in 1968, a man by the name of Fred Rogers understood this. And although change is tough for everyone, Mr. Rogers understood that this was especially true for children. In our early stages as a child, our worlds are changing so fast. And not only our world, but our bodies and our minds. Each day is different and the change is relentless. Mr. Rogers understood that children need a space where they are welcomed and valued and honored within the perennial seasons of change.

And so, on February 19th, 1968, the pilot episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted on National Educational Television, the predecessor to PBS. And, of course, the topic of the first show was “change.” As the trolly takes the viewer from Mr. Rogers’ living room to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, we discover that King Friday is very stressed out because someone called Lady Elaine has been making a lot of changes in the kingdom. King Friday doesn’t like the changes one bit and so he sets up a border guard in order to try to keep the change at bay. And, in another bit of brilliance on the part of Fred Rogers, the episode does not resolve itself. At the end of the episode, King Friday is still worried about the change and we are left with a safe space in order to talk about change.

Well, the Bible has a lot of change in it. And tonight’s passage is no exception. That very familiar story of Angels, Shepherds and a baby born in a manger. How is this a story about change? How is this a story about confusion? How is this a story about disorientation? I believe that these words from the Gospel of Luke are a world changing proclamation:”…the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger…”. The son of God was born. The savior of the world came into the world. Emmanuel. God With Us! This is a radical change. This is a game changer for humanity. It calls us to live our life another way. A life of love and service – like Jesus.

Friends, I believe that tonight’s familiar passage is about change and how we are called to adapt to it knowing that Christ walks beside us. You and I are called to be flexible with one another and to learn how God is calling us to minister to and with one another as part of the community of Christ. A community that is about love.

I think that was the reason Mr. Rogers created his monumental TV show. He understood the importance of a community where people are loved for who they are and can find a safe space to navigate life’s changing courses. I see a lot of parallels between that and what we are called to do and be as the Church. A community that lives a different type of life. A life of love. My favorite example of Christ’s kingdom of love has always been a certain neighborhood – the neighborhood of make-believe. A community that sought to change the world with puppets and trolleys

But not everything in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was sweetness and light. His show carried on through some of our nation’s most turbulent times. He knew what it meant for love to be a sacrifice. In the trailer for the recent movie, they show footage of an angry white man frantically pouring jugs and jugs of bleach into a newly integrated swimming pool where black children were playing in the water. It was at this moment in history, when integration was still a hot-button issue, that one of Mr. Rogers’ most iconic episodes aired.
On a hot summer day, Officer Clemmons, the black police officer played by François Clemmons, stops by Mr. Rogers’ yard where he’s soaking his feet in a kiddie pool. Gently, kindly, Mr. Rogers invites Officer Clemmons to sit and put his feet in the kiddie pool, too, and the two sing a song:

There are many ways to say I love you
There are many ways to say I care about you.
Many ways, many ways, many ways to say
I love you.

There’s the singing way to say I love you
There’s the singing something someone really likes to hear,
The singing way, the singing way, the singing way to say
I love you.

Cleaning up a room can say I love you.
Hanging up a coat before you’re asked to
Drawing special pictures for the holidays and Making plays.

You’ll find many ways to say I love you.
You’ll find many ways to understand what love is.
Many ways, many ways, many ways to say
I love you.

Singing, cleaning,
Drawing, being
Love you.

And at the end, as Officer Clemmons prepares to leave, Mr. Rogers leans down, and in an act that should evoke every Christian’s— memory of Maundy Thursday, he picks up a towel and dries Officer Clemmons’ feet. The meaning was not lost on America. It was kind. It was right. But the truth is, it could have gotten them both killed, or at least in a lot of trouble. Fred Rogers knew about sacrificial love. Fred Rogers knew that sacrificial love could change our world into God’s kingdom.

Amid life’s changes, we are called to be a Christ-centered community where people are welcomed relentlessly and loved ferociously. And the way church did that in 1959 won’t cut in 2020. At times, as the Church in the 21st century, we can feel like nothing seems to be working, and the changes we see are too much to deal with.

Friends, I don’t pretend to have any easy answers. I do not have a magic wand that will make fix the church. Things change and we have to try new things while simultaneously remaining faithful to Jesus Christ. It’s scary, I know. But I know that we’re not alone. We are in good company. Jesus Christ has carried us thus far and he has no intentions of letting us go.

Together, let us take a cue from Fred Rogers and seek to be a place where people can find safety, love, and acceptance amid the craziness of this world. And that might mean going to new places and trying new things. And those new things will come with their successes and those new things might also come with their failures. And when, not if, the failures come, let us shake the dust off our feet and keep moving, following Christ to where he would lead us, to whatever neighborhood his message needs to be heard. Knowing that whatever change happens in our church, our community and our lives:

…a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.

Commentary provided by John Wilkinson, Stephen M. Fearing, Jill Duffield, L. Benjamin Rolsky, Lonnie Lacy and Deirdre J. Good and Lauren F. Winner