2022-12-24 Christmas Eve
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
How many Christmas Eve services have you attended in your lifetime? Depending on the candles on your birthday cake it might range from a couple to too many to count! If it’s that many, is there anything new for you to hear tonight about the birth of our Lord Jesus? Are there any new revelations about the angels and the shepherds and the wisemen? What can I bring you that is new and exciting tonight? The answer is … I can’t. Christmas isn’t like some Netflix original series that has you binge watching and salivating for the next episode to find out what happens! We already know what happens. We already know the ending to this happy baby story. There is nothing new. There are no new facts that were previously unknown. Instead, we have an age-old, familiar and well known story that somehow keeps bringing people back, year after year after year for 2000 years! This old, old story has staying power precisely because it is amazing and timeless. The Word of God becomes flesh and dwells among us, St. John says as he unfolds the mystery of the Incarnation.
At the beginning of Advent when I was stringing up my Christmas lights, I noticed that a couple of strands didn’t survive from last Christmas and needed to be replaced. So off to Canadian Tire I went, down to the Christmas lights aisle. They had white lights and blue lights and multicoloured lights and icicle lights and breathing lights and you name it, it’s there for the low, low price of $24.95 a strand. “What a racket this is!” I said, grumbling to another customer. Here I am, commemorating one of the greatest moments in all of human history by putting up highly efficient, LED exterior home illumination! It’s crazy! Think about it. We cut down perfectly good evergreen trees so we can bring them inside for a couple of weeks only to throw them out a week later! It’s crazy! And yet we do it year after year after year. Tradition? A once a year habit? Yep. Nothing wrong with that! But that’s not the only reason.
It’s that we can’t help but talk about Christmas. We can’t help but tell the story of the Savior born to the Virgin mom in a manger. Even our secular world, that tries to overshadow baby Jesus with loads of Black Friday consumerism and jolly old St. Nick the diabetic, even they can’t avoid the real reason for the season. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (JN 1:14).
A woman took her 16 year old daughter to the doctor. “What seems to be the trouble?” the doctor asked. “It’s my daughter,” said the mother, “she keeps getting these cravings. She’s putting on weight and is throwing up most mornings!” The doctor examines the daughter and turns to the mother and says “Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your daughter is pregnant, probably around 4 months or so.” The mother goes ballistic. “Pregnant!? She can’t be! She’s never even been left alone with a man! Have you, dear?” “No momma! I don’t even have a boyfriend!” replies the panicking daughter. The doctor gets up and walks down the hallway to a window and just stares out it. 5 minutes later the mother comes up and says “Doctor, what are you doing? Is something wrong?!” The doctor replies “Well, no, not really. It’s just that the last time anything like this happened, a star appeared in the east and three wisemen came over the hill. I’ll be darned if I’m going to miss it this time!”
It’s funny that such an amazing event like God becoming a human person would take place the way it did. No billion dollar Hollywood budget. No blockbuster glitz and glam. No high-end Las Vegas production. Instead we have really common, everyday stuff. A poor unmarried virgin girl & her betrothed. A low-down no account town called Bethlehem with no room in the motel. Gritty characters like shepherds and their sheep coming to a barnyard cave where the livestock live. A rough food trough. One of the Saints clued in to this and said “He chose surroundings that were poor and simple, so ordinary as to be almost unnoticed, so that people would know it was God alone that had changed the world” (Theodotus of Ancyra).
The simple, ordinary circumstances of the birth of Jesus highlight the sacredness of the event. Only God would work in such a way. It seems so backwards to us. And that’s the point. The extra-ordinary and the ordinary meet to show us exactly how amazing God’s grace is for us. To reconcile God and sinners, baby Jesus is born. To heal our sins and failings, God puts on flesh. To give us faith and salvation, the Lord of all creation becomes the creation. This mind-blowing mystery in a paradox of the common and the uncommon, keeps us coming back, year after year after year. Even though we know the story and the details and how it ends, here we are again tonight, beholding the mystery of our salvation.
This was the attitude of Mary and Joseph, of the Shepherds and the sheep, the Angels and the Wisemen. All who came to see the miracle born in Bethlehem came with this same attitude. Here in this manger, in this little no account town, is God. The promised Messiah, prophesied about for thousands of years, Who would be born that death may die, is here. That’s what makes this night and this event of Christmas so special. That’s what gives it the staying power. All we can do is simply believe for ourselves and behold this amazing mystery of God in the flesh!
A husband was doing some last minute Christmas Eve shopping for his wife at the nearby mall. He was rushing from store to store, picking things up and setting them back down. Glancing at his watch, he nervously settled on a big bottle of costly perfume. As he went to pay for it, the clerk said “I’ll bet your wife will be surprised to get this!” “Oh she sure will!” replied the man. “She’s expecting a trip to Hawaii!”
Expecting the unexpected has become the name of the Christmas game. Not for presents to each other so much as God’s unexpected ways of giving us the costliest present in the universe! This is how we see our Lord Jesus. He’s not a present under the tree, He would become the present on the tree. He comes to heal what was broken by becoming broken for us on the cross. Truly He has been born for you and for me and for this whole world. This gift of gifts takes us all the way around the Advent wreath, giving us hope, peace, joy and an eternal love that this world with all of it’s problems and troubles cannot take away.
In Jesus, the light of the world has come. And so we do our best to talk about that heavenly light by stringing up our coloured LEDs and lighting candles. We remember Isaiah’s words that said “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (9:2). The light of the star that led the Magi to the place where the King of Kings was is remembered as we place a star upon the top of our Christmas tree. We do these same things year after year because “to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given” (Isa 9:6).
God truly has given to us and to all the world the greatest gift – Emmanuel, God with us. May this gift of uncommon heavenly grace continue to fill your common hearts with gladness now and forever more! Amen! Merry Christmas!