Christmas Eve Message

Empty manger at night

Text used – Luke 2:1-20

  • It’s a busy time of year, isn’t it?
    • Shopping
    • Wrapping
    • Cooking
    • Baking
    • Decorating
    • Visiting
    • Cleaning
    • Mailing
      • Packages
      • Christmas cards
    • I know I can’t be the only one in this room this evening who feels like they’ve been running, flitting from one task to the next like a crazed hummingbird. This is a busy time of year, full of to-do lists and expectations.
      • Expectations we place upon ourselves → list of cookies that you “have” to make every year because “it’s tradition … it’s what we do at Christmas time”
      • Expectations placed on us by society → perfect-looking house inside and out – lights, garland, Christmas tree, decorations, etc.
      • Expectations placed on us by loved ones → one of my best friends from high school has 5 family Christmases to get to between her family and her spouse’s family!
    • It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy these activities. Some of them are indeed traditions that we treasure – the things that “make the holiday” for us. For example, I love sending Christmas cards – designing the photo card, writing the yearly update letter, stuffing the envelopes, attaching the special Christmas seal, and even addressing them. It’s one of my favorite things to do during the holidays. But as those boxes of cards and sheets of stamps and seals and everything sit on my dining room table (or floor) day after day as I work my way through our list, even this beloved activity becomes another thing on the to-do list. Another expectation.
  • But when we stop to think about it, are these truly the things that “make the holiday”? What would we do if we couldn’t bake those 14 types of cookies? What if we couldn’t engage in the hunt for that “perfect” Christmas gift? What if we couldn’t decorate or wrap or even visit? Would it still be Christmas?
    • According to the sage and ever-entertaining Dr. Seuss, the answer is yes:

So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow.
But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!
He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”[1]

Grinch

  • Friends, as much fun as all the trimmings and trappings of this holiday season can be, all of those things are not what bring us here to these pews tonight … to this sanctuary … to this sacred space and time. We do not gather to sing and pray and celebrate communion together because of the shopping sprees and the tinsel and the chaos of Christmas. We come for the manger. We come for the baby. We come for the miracle. We come for the holy moment. We come in search not of another thing to do but a place to pause. We come in search of our kneeling places.
    • Poem by Ann Weems: “In Search of Our Kneeling Places[2]
    • Yes, it’s true that even our Scripture reading this evening – even that familiar Christmas story that we know and love – is bustling with activity.
      • Mary and Joseph knocking on doors, searching and searching and searching for that place to rest their weary heads
      • The exertion and anxiousness and excitement of the birth
      • Angels appearing in the darkness of the hills and filling the sky with light and song
      • Shepherds hurrying to the manger-side
      • Mary and Joseph welcoming the shepherds into what was surely an awkward and personal and precious moment just after the birth of the Christ Child
      • The incredible, audacious nature of the shepherds’ report
      • But in the midst of all that holy hustle and bustle, there is Mary, quietly and steadfastly remaining in her kneeling place despite all that is going on around her and even inside her – text: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.[3]
        • Scholar: Finally, we have a blessing of peace. God sends us peace. God does not desire huge festivals, frantic preparations, or wish us boundless energy to do everything. Rather, God wishes us peace.[4]
  • On Sunday mornings in this congregation, we take a few moments of silence at the beginning of every service. It’s meant to be a time when we can refocus ourselves, when we can set aside all of those things that distract us – worries, to-do lists, and everything else. We set aside that special time so that we can prepare our hearts and our minds to intentionally encounter God in our worship. That time at the beginning of our service is our kneeling place. And tonight is no different. Yes, there are certainly still things to do – gifts to open, meals to prepare, Christmas songs to sing and stories to read, family Christmases to attend, and so on. But let this time … this night … this worship be your kneeling place – your time to pause, to reflect, to open your heart and your whole self to the worship of the miracle of the birth of Christ. Friends, let us go to Bethlehem and find our kneeling places so that we can wholly and committedly say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Holy Child.” Amen.

[1] Dr. Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (New York, NY: Random House, 1957), 42-48.

[2] Ann Weems. “In Search of Our Kneeling Places” in Kneeling in Bethlehem. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1987), 19.

[3] Lk 2:19 (NRSV).

[4] Aaron Klink. “Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20) – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 120.

Sunday’s sermon: Giving and Receiving

giving and receiving

Texts used – Isaiah 9:2-7 and John 1:1-18

  • During the Christmas season, we spend a lot of time and energy on finding The Perfect Gift, don’t we? Trying to come up with what that “perfect” item might be … hunting down that “perfect” item, be it in a store or online … fretting about whether we’ve made the “perfect” decision or whether we should have come up with something else. For some, this hunt can become all-consuming.
    • Not necessarily a bad thing – most often comes from a place of love → We love our family and friends, and we want to find a gift that’s going to make them happy – something that will make their faces light up.
    • The problem = when we become so preoccupied with the gift itself that we forget why we’re giving it
      • Too wrapped up in the hunt itself
      • So fixated on the “perfect” part that we lose sight of the “gift” part
      • Giving in order to get the accolades for finding the “perfect” gift instead of giving for the sheer joy of giving
      • Giving should be an act of selflessness, an act of love, right?
  • I want to read you a story this morning. – [READ “THE GIFT OF THE MAGI”[1]]
    • Story of giving and receiving not from a place of lavishness or excess but a place of pure love, pure selflessness
    • Hmmm … I think I know another story about a precious gift given in pure, selfless love.
  • Friends, today we’re talking about giving and receiving – a concept that has become oh so commercialized during this Christmas season but which has a whole different meaning when it comes to the Christmas story we know and love as Christians. For it was at Christmas – that very first Christmas in Bethlehem of Judea, in an obscure and drafty stable, in a rough and dingy feeding trough filled with straw – that God sent humanity the greatest gift of all: Love Incarnate. Hope Incarnate. Grace Incarnate. God With Us in the humble, unassuming, vulnerable form of a baby.
  • Gift proclaimed in clear and powerful language in our OT passage this morning – text: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy. … A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.[2]
    • Echoes of this gift in our NT passage as well: Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.[3]
      • Gift of grace
      • Gift of peace
      • Gift of hope in dark places
      • Gift of inextinguishable Light → Notice that the verse says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish it.” The rest of the passage is written in past tense, but that single verse is in the present active That’s a tense that is a little too nuanced for English, but in Greek, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It is present – it is existing, it is current, it is unceasing. And it is active – it is dynamic, it is involved, it is stirring. This Light is brighter than even the most persistent darkness, and it is this Light that surrounds us. It is this Light that holds us and keeps us. It is this Light that comes for us, born tonight in that humble manger and laid to sleep in that feeding trough. This Light – a light of hope and joy and forgiveness and reassurance – is the greatest gift ever given in the history of the world.
        • Given freely
        • Given from a place of pure love and selflessness
        • Given without strings attached
        • Given willingly by God
  • Now, I want you to notice something else this morning: In both our Old Testament and New Testament readings that there are no qualifications placed on that gift. Neither Scripture readings says anything about meeting a laundry list of requirements in order to be worthy of this gift. So why is it that so often, we feel like we have to earn it? We feel like we have to do something … say something … be something specific in order to receive this gift that God simply want to give to us … just because we are us?
    • Song that we’re going to listen to this morning speaks to that → [PLAY “Little Drummer Boy” sung by Pentatonix[4]
      • Song begins with those expectations placed not by God but by others, “Come, they told me … a newborn King to see … Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the King … so to honor him when we come.” → The implication is that only the finest gifts are appropriate and acceptable. And so often, we get that message from the world around us, especially this time of year.
        • Jewelry commercials
        • Electronics commercials
        • store commercials
        • Perfume/cologne commercials
        • Car commercials (I literally no nobody who has ever actually gotten a brand-spanking, shiny, new car for Christmas)
        • You name it, someone will be trying to convince you that your life will be better, brighter, fuller, whatever-er if you buy this gift. It will show your loved one just how much you truly care.
      • But then we come to the sticking point: Little baby, I am a poor boy, too … I have no gift to bring, to lay before the King à Pause there for one second. “I am a poor boy, TOO.”
        • Recognizes the humble estate into which Jesus – God Incarnate – was born → not a palace, not even a wealthy merchant’s home, not even the actual paid-for room of an inn!, but a stable
          • Probably not the pristine stable that artists like to depict either → Y’all either are farmers or you know farmers. Have you ever seen a consistently-used stable that was that clean? That tidy? Spoiler alert: It doesn’t exist. That stable was messy. That stable was dirty. That stable was stinky. But it was warm, and safe, and the perfect place for God to enter into not only the pristine moments of our lives but the truly mucky, messy ones as well.
            • Jn: The Word became flesh and made his home among us (messy and crazy and messed up, though we are). And we have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.[5]
  • Friends, we know how the song ends: Shall I play for you? Mary nodded. The ox and lamb kept time. I played my drum for him. I played by best for him. Then he smiled at me, me and my drum. → It’s not about the shiniest gift. It’s not about the most elaborate gift or the most expensive gift. It’s about the genuineness and the love behind the gift. And it’s about the grace and gratitude with which the gift is received.
    • Jn: From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace; as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.[6] Alleluia! Amen.

[1] O. Henry. “The Gift of the Magi,” https://americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/1-the_gift_of_the_magi_0.pdf.

[2] Is 9:2-3, 6.

[3] Jn 1:3-5.

[4] “Little Drummer Boy” as performed by Pentatonix from the album “PTXmas: Deluxe Edition,” RCA Records, 2014.

[5] Jn 1:14 (with embellishment).

[6] Jn 1:16-17.