traditional sermon Christmas Eve
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11, KJV)
I find it ironic that during a season that is centered upon peace on earth … the peace brought by God … and the peace of a holy child in a manger … We seem to find ways to completely fill that season with so many things in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve … That we are anything but peaceful. Parties are fun … Christmas cookies taste great … everyone like a present once in a while … Christmas carols are amazing (even when Mariah Carey butchers them) … tree hunting is a hoot … and our home decorations look great. But sometimes it seems that the end result is a harried – forced – impatient rush to Christmas Eve night. Hard as we try, we just don’t get it sometimes. Every time I hear Amy Grant’s song, “I Need a Silent Night” I think of this odd reality. Her second verse captures my thinking.
December comes then disappears.
Faster and faster every year.
Did my own mother keep this pace
Or was the world a different place?
Where people stayed home wishing for snow
Watching three channels on their TV.
Look at us now rushing around
Trying to buy Christmas peace.
I need a silent night … a holy night.
Fortunately, we are rescued most years. Our families sometimes save us by just being what they are … our families. Our kiddos often bail us out because there is nothing quite like a child on Christmas Day. Sometimes our traditions rescue us … the reading of The Night Before Christmas … singing Christmas carols around the piano … the memories of those we have loved and lost. And even our stores occasionally liberate us, because other than drug stores and convenience stores … and Starbucks, of course … most stores don’t open on Christmas Day …yet.
In the deepest places in our souls, of course, we know exactly who saves us from ourselves … the God whom we worship lying in that manger. Because try as we might, we just can’t ruin it. If there is a Christmas message of hope in this season, maybe it is this. That God saves us from ourselves. Because even when try our hardest to be self-absorbed and immature and greedy and petty … God breaks through and delivers what we need, not what we ask for.
It happened in the world 2000 years ago, when the religious community of first century Palestine was waiting for a messiah who would be powerful … and militaristic … and political … in ways that would put Israel right back on top of the world … large and in charge. Instead, God sent them a baby … a baby so weak that it could not protect itself, but had to rely on parents to squirrel him off into the desert to hide from a crazy man on the Roman throne of Judea who wanted to kill him. A baby so normal, that we don’t really hear anything about him in the Bible, other than his naming day and bar mitzvah, until he began his public ministry thirty years after his birth. A baby so uninteresting, that other than a couple of shepherds and their sheep, and a few inquiring wise men who got there two years after the fact, no one really took notice of Jesus as anything special at all.
Isn’t that exactly how God always works? Through those you least expect … and those who the world thinks can’t do much of anything at all. That is the message of the Christmas season, my friends, and it comes to us in two parts. First … we are reminded that it is God who redeems us. It is not our faith … or our actions … or our good intentions … or our accomplishments. It is God’s power and grace and surprising intervention into our world that saves us … most of the time from ourselves. And second … that it is not always the strong and powerful who shape the world in the ways it most needs to be shaped. But it is the dude on the street … the person you sit next to in the pew … the silent servant diligently working behind the scenes … the person who looks back at you in the mirror every morning. The miracle of Christmas is that if God can use a baby — a baby who could do little more than wet his swaddling cloths and cry for his mommy – to bring about change for the good in the world … then God can use you and me, too. We don’t have to be power brokers … or the person everyone looks up to and wants a picture with. We don’t have to be the best of the best and the person with all the gifts. God chooses to use you and me … in spite of our failings … to bring this message of why a baby’s birth in a little Podunk town like Bethlehem — means so much to the world. Yes, God saves us in spite of ourselves … and God sends us out to bring this amazing news — that begins with the Christmas story, but certainly doesn’t end there – to all the world.
So don’t worry if you were a little cranky in the queue line at Target yesterday, when you were trying to rush home and every single person in front of you had 173 items in their cart. Don’t worry if you slammed off the radio in your car (like I do) when Mariah Carey’s “I Don’t Want A Lot for Christmas” came on for the 17th time that day on Friday. Don’t even worry if you walked into church tonight, not so much because you yearned for the power of the Christmas story to be spoken to you personally, but because it was one place where you could find a little peace and quiet. Don’t worry … because God can use that … God can use all of it. God can and does overcome every single foil and distraction that we place in front of our faith. … And by God’s power alone, makes us vessels of the Spirit of God … the Spirit of the Christ Child … the Spirit of Christmas … for all those in the world who so desperately need to hear this message. For tonight, allow it to simply redeem your life. Tomorrow is early enough for you to start spreading this good news in ways that might allow God to transform those around you. Amen.