Christmas Eve – December 24, 2020
Faith Lutheran Church
Grace to you all and peace from God the Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
There is a certain wonderful feeling about Christmas Eve. I suppose it affects all of us in different ways, but for me it’s this wonderful, comfortable feeling. Maybe it has to do with the tree, the music, the decorations, and hearing the story of angels and shepherds. It has to do with people around us remembering us.
These are the sorts of feeling expressed by Snoopy in the song of the same name, from the musical “You’re a good man Charlie Brown.” Snoopy sings,
“They like me! I think they’re swell! Isn’t it remarkable how things turn out so well? Pleasant day, pretty sky, life goes on, here I lie. Not bad, not bad at all. Cozy home, board and bed, sturdy roof beneath my head. Faithful friends, always near me. Not bad, not bad at all.”
Doesn’t that express some of the feelings we might have on Christmas eve? A poet by the name of Robert Browning once put his experience of this feeling to words, writing “God’s in heaven—All’s right with the world.”
But, when we stop to think about it, we realize that Browning was wrong, whether he was talking about the Christmas feeling or not. He was wrong on two counts:
In the first place, all is not right with the world.
- 1/7 people in the United States are facing food insecurity this holiday season, including 17 million children
- There are over 1.7 million people who have died from COVID 19 globally.
- Many people are having to spend the holidays alone and in isolation from those they love.
No, all’s not right with the world. Oh, there are good things too. The picture isn’t all pessimistic. There are happy families. There is Christmas Joy and a mood of generosity. There is the fresh smell of Christmas trees and people who have been separated being reconciled. There is the hope of a vaccine, and yet still all isn’t right in the world. It isn’t now, and it wasn’t then for the shepherds.
People sneered at them. Some lifted their noses up at the smell of the sheep. If God were up in heaven as Browning suggested, why allow such a things to go on? Why allow all this sickness, and war, and pain? Any decent person with divine power for just five minutes would wipe out all of that. If God is God, how can God be so removed and so aloof from the tangled and twisted things and from everything that is wrong with this world?
Well, that is the second place where Mr. Browning was wrong. God is not removed and aloof, up in heaven. That’s what Christmas is all about. All is not right with the world, and for just that reason God is not just up in heaven. The god of this massive, expanding universe has plunged right into the thick of human life on this planet. God was born a human and lived a human life in Jesus. The shepherds were told that this baby they would find in a manger was “The Lord!”
We can’t go as far as we’d like in understanding how God was in Jesus. We can only come to Jesus as the Shepherds did. Through the Bible we can share in the witness of those who received him, heard him speak in parables, perform miracles, teach and preach. And it is because of this witness that we recognize the birth of Jesus as such a central point in human history. At the moment it happened, it didn’t seem that important. There were only a handful of people who thought that anything special or unique was taking place.
But in Jesus, God lived a human life. Jesus struggled with temptation. Jesus had high moments and moments of despair. He was glad, sad, angry and scared. He lived. He ate. He cried. He was alone, He suffered. He died. He was buried. All of this started at Christmas when the shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem. At Christmas God came down from heaven, took on flesh and became incarnate.
Jesus didn’t come as a spy for God to snoop around and give God a year-end report. Jesus didn’t come to the world closing his eyes and holding his breath till the whole ordeal was over. He didn’t come holding his nose till he could get out, but rather identified himself with humanity.
Because of Christmas, because of the birth, life and death of Jesus, God is speaking to us. God says, “I know, I understand. I am here with you. I am Emmanuel–God with us. I have moved in with you, among your failures, your mistakes, your twisted and tangled world.”
This means a number of things for us. It means that God is with us in all of life. We often think that we have to pray, read the bible, change jobs, or have a weekend retreat before we can get to God. And while each of these can serve as a way to communicate with God, to grow in our relationship with God, Christmas says that it is not we who get to God, but it is God who comes to us-Wherever we are, whoever we are. God comes into life, into human life, into all of life. In Jesus, God is with us.
This also means a second thing. It means the world isn’t necessarily going to be different after tonight just because we attended church, sang familiar carols, and celebrated Christmas. Maybe we’d like to say that the way things are tonight are the way we’d like them to be all the time. This may be the way we want to live. But it’s not going to be that way.
- Many people will still be unsure of where their next meal is going to come from tomorrow morning.
- Even with the hope of a vaccine, it will still be months before it is fully rolled out
- Despite joining together virtually, zooming during Christmas day supper is not the same as sharing a table together
It was so after the very first Christmas. The Holy Family had to flee to Egypt because of King Herod calling for the killing of all the new born children in Bethlehem. As we will hear shortly from the Gospel of John, Jesus’ own people did not accept him. And the shepherd went back to their work tending their flocks. I’m sure they were changed people, but the sheep were still the same to them, ornery and independent.
The point is this: Christmas isn’t meant to be all glory. Christmas is the news that God comes into our lives which are not all glory. God doesn’t mean to lift us up and take us out of this life, but rather comes down to live with us in our lives. Only a God who is truly incarnate, who has a deep understanding of life as it is, can speak in a meaningful way to us.
That means a final thing, that we who honor Jesus Christ, we who know his presence with us aren’t to stick ourselves away in moss covered churches or hide behind a hymnal or Bible. It means that we can’t go around holding our breath and closing our eyes or pinching our noses until heaven breaks in on us, but that we go
- Where there is sickness and pain
- To where there are hurts
- To where it smells.
Christmas is where God is–it is where God comes to us, and it isn’t meant to be all glory. Dear people, as we go from this shared space on this Christmas eve, may we always bring Christ with us in everything we do.