Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20
Good evening! Merry Christmas! I am overjoyed to see all of you here tonight for this wonderful celebration of God’s gift to all of us, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I hope you are all filled with joy tonight, too! More than that, I hope that you are fed here tonight—I hope that you are fed in body, mind, and spirit; I hope you leave this place stuffed with hope, peace, joy, and love!
On Christmas Eve, that’s an easy sell. You’re probably feeling happy already. You’ll feel even better after singing some of your favorite Christmas hymns. Even if I preach a dreadful sermon tonight, you’ll find something else in the service that gives you joy and you’ll remember that, instead of my sermon.
What’s more, we hear this same story from the Gospel of Luke every year. It begs the question, why bother? What more could I say about Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus? What can I say that hasn’t been said already?
It’s the same old story, right?
We’re living in the time between the birth of our Savior and the time of his return. Just like every Christmas since the resurrection.
It’s the same old story. Caesar Augustus has called for a census. Joseph and Mary must journey to Bethlehem to be counted. There was no room at the inn. An angel came to the shepherds in the fields to tell them of the birth of the Messiah. And the shepherds sought out the Baby Jesus and praised him. We know this story.
But it’s NOT the same old story!
Think about our hymns tonight. They tell the story in the present tense. The hymn doesn’t go, “Hark! The herald angels sang.” NO. It’s “Hark! The Herald Angels SING!” The angels sing to us; they announce that God has entered the world. They announce that there is a newborn king. The angels shout that we are reconciled to God through this new baby!
Our first hymn, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” beckons us to come to Bethlehem and worship the Christ child. In the present tense. Come. Come and behold him. Come and adore him!
This isn’t the same old story, it’s the same NEW story! It’s new every year because we need to hear it every year. We need to know that we still matter to God so much that God does something new and amazing for us: God enters the world in the person of Jesus Christ.
God loves us that much!
God LOVES us! Present tense. And we need to know this. We need this reminder. This year and every year.
We need this reminder because our lives are filled with busyness and craziness. Our lives are filled with anxiety and uncertainty, fear and grief.
Many of us live in a state of constant anxiety over our jobs or relationships. During the holidays, we hear the commercials that scream at us to buy more stuff. We hear the fake news that buying more things will ease our worries and make everyone happy—at least until we see our credit card bills for all the junk we bought in November and December.
And many of us get sad around Christmas. We remember all of the loved ones we’ve lost over the years—the people who loved us into being and watched us open presents on Christmas morning. We also remember brothers and sisters, and husbands and wives—the folks who helped to define us through relationships, and who knew all of our most important stories.
I feel those feelings every year. I have more Christmases behind me than ahead of me. I don’t have kids, so I don’t have the fun of watching them open presents. I’m tempted to look to the past to find my joy, rather than focusing on the present; rather than looking for the things that are happening in the present tense.
And what IS happening? A congregation is gathered to hear the same new story. The story of God doing a new thing in the world. The story of our God, who so loves the world that he sends his only son to live among us! Joy to the world! The Lord is come! This is joy in the present tense! Right here, right now.
In this same new story, God sends an angel to announce the birth of the Messiah. The angel visits shepherds who are out in the fields watching their flocks. We don’t appreciate the lives of the shepherds, or why it’s so important that they were the first to receive the good news.
Shepherds were at the margins of society—literally and figuratively. On the literal level, these shepherds were outside of the city walls, outside of the structures that protected them from the weather and from wild animals. They were separated by geography, the distance from the town to the pastures.
Shepherds didn’t have much status in Jesus’ time. At best, the shepherds might have been the youngest sons of the man who owned the sheep. More likely, the shepherds were cousins or nephews of the man who owned the sheep. The shepherds worked in exchange for food and shelter, but they had little prospect of inheriting any property and it was unlikely they would get married and have families of their own. And some shepherds were just hired hands, day laborers who worked occasionally, but were never really trusted or loved by the people who hired them.
These were the people who heard the angel’s message on that first Christmas night. The shepherds were separated by geographic distance, they were the less important members of their families, or they were the poorest of the poor. The angel visits people on the margins, those who most need to hear the good news.
Just like us!
We need to be reminded that God loves each and every one of us! And when we come to this church, on Christmas Eve or on any other day, we can see that we are connected. We are connected to a God who loves us. We are connected to the people around us. Because we are all broken in some way. We have all lost loved ones. Many of us are separated from family and friends by geography. Some of us are separated by physical ailments, while others are cut off by addictions and mental illnesses. That’s why we all need this same new story every year!
So, if you’re new to First Presbyterian Church, or an occasional visitor to this congregation, please know that you are welcome to participate in the life of this church and you are invited to come in from the margins and find a home here. And if you’re already a vital part of this community, and if you are focused on the present, on this same new story, then remember that there are people outside of our walls who need to hear this story. Go to them. Tell them the story. And then show them the light and truth of God’s love! Thanks be to God. Amen.
Now, Beloved, remember that unto us, a savior is born, unto us, a child is given. Remember that God loves us so much that he sends his only Son into the world—in the present tense. So, go forth and be instruments of God’s love and peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!