Traditional sermon 7:30pm Christmas eve
Merry Christmas, friends!
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Familiar words. As the church leadership was planning the Christmas Eve services, we intentionally leaned into using the King James Version of the Nativity story for our Traditional services. Familiar words describing emperors giving decrees, a man from Galilee and his espoused wife, and days being accomplished that she should be delivered. And a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.
As you hear the old familiar words perhaps you can almost envision the artwork from masters or from your favorite Christmas card you received this year.
We read about the joy of the Nativity and the events that came together to bring the Christ child into our world, and may wonder if the miracle of God’s work in our world was a one time thing. That like the wording of the King James Version, the very idea of God’s movement in the world today seems antiquated or a thing only for dusty books, old artwork and overpriced Christmas cards.
And yet, the Christmas story is just the beginning of God’s incarnational work with us. We encounter the Nativity all the time, sometimes we’re in a situation where not only are we touched by it, but we are gifted with the revelation to stop. Notice. Worship. And give praise to God with us. Emmanuel.
A couple of stories I want to share with you tonight of that revelation that I’ve encountered when the Nativity miracle reaches beyond stable walls and cattle lowing into the busy, worrying pace of our lives.
The first came to pass in those days, when a decree from my university that all the students should go home for the Thanksgiving holiday. All went to eat turkey and do laundry for free, everyone into their own city.
And my dad also went up to upstate New York to pick up his heavy laden daughter and drive her home for the Thanksgiving break.
And it was on their way home through the isolated highways of Route 17 when, lo, the tire on their 1992 Plymouth Minivan exploded and they were sorely afraid. And as this daughter was keeping watch of the car by night, her dad changed the tire. And there was great joy, until we discovered that in the process of it all the car battery gave up the ghost and died.
And we were sorely afraid.
For there we were in the middle of nowhere with no phone to call home, far from the nearest exit, and in the darkest of dark nights with very few cars passing by.
And it was with a very small pen light that we tried to flag a car down on that very cold night. And slowly the pen light began to dim and fade.
And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, driving a Jeep with a New York license plate, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them with jumper cables.
Though this night happened almost 20 years ago, I still remember the young man in the Jeep (the seventh car to come by us and the only one to stop).
And he said, “I usually never stop for people on the road, but something compelled me.”
And along with the hosts of angels–two mortals here on earth–a father and a daughter–praised God that night, truly glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
Well, the story I know of with Wise men bearing gifts, came to pass with a church member out in Ohio who in 2012 traveled from the east…not to Bethlehem…but to Las Vegas, and lo, the star of Las Vegas was certainly bright.
But this parishioner’s heart was heavy.
For she had received word from the doctors that her kidneys were in great distress. Life looked pretty scary for her.
And so she and her husband traveled from the east to Vegas to enjoy a trip in the midst of a future seeming so uncertain. And when they came into the hotel…they encountered travelers like themselves.
And through the week became friends and shared stories of family and dreams. And she eventually shared her story of her kidneys and the fear of what may be.
It was then that a wiseman…actually a wise woman who she met presented unto her a gift. Not of gold, and frankincense and myrrh. But a gift of her own kidney. She promised that if she was a match, this wise woman would travel to Ohio and donate her kidney to her new friend, because why not give a gift to someone in need?
And in the glow of the ICU, sitting alongside my my parishioner following a successful transplant operation, she and her husband sat in awe of the faith shown, the miles traveled, and the life-filled gift received.
And Mary brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.
A few months ago I was visiting Betty and Joe, homebound and very faithful. Joe was sharing stories of his time on the front during World War II. He found himself serving alongside doctors and nurses tending to the maimed and wounded of the war. It was a dark time when he would see more death some days that could be easy to forget that life was possible.
And it came to pass in those days, when a nurse being great with child, was to leave her station and travel to the homefront to deliver. But plans worked differently, and the days were accomplished that she should be delivered…not on the homefront, but in a battlefield station.
And (to the amazement of the doctors and medics who for months had been binding up the war wounded) this nurse brought forth her firstborn son, and the doctors wrapped him in medical clothes, and laid him in a box meant for oranges, for there was no beds for babies in the station meant for war.
And as Joe was telling me this story. He stopped and tears ran down his face. Though 70 years had passed when he made haste and rustled up a box meant for fruit and fitted for a swaddled baby, though 70 years had passed since the cries of an infant were heard in a war torn land…Joe stopped and said, “I can still hear his cries.” With tears in his eyes Joe said, “It was a miracle. And we all knew it. We’d only seen death, and here this baby brought us a gift of life. And we got to witness it. And it made us laugh and giggle. And hope.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Dear friends, God’s incarnational love is all around us. In stables a globe away where families cower and hope of a better day or swaddled in baby blankets at LGH, God’s hope brings surprising warmth in the darkened streets in far off lands or downtown alleys. God’s love realized in gifts abound whether it’s on the bright lights of the Vegas strip or in the soft glow of your Christmas tree this night.
God is here.
Give yourself the gift of stopping and being present. Here. Now.
When you are witnessing the awesome presence of God through the help of a stranger, a beloved friend, a sight that brings you hope in a dark time. Don’t miss it. To you this day is a Savior, Christ the Lord.
And may your Christmas be blessed. Amen