Christmas Eve Sermon
First Lutheran Church + December 24, 2017
In the beginning, once upon a time, once and for all time: God created the heavens and the earth, and everything that lives upon the earth, and “it was very good.” On the sixth day of that work God created humanity, and that creative act began with a conversation. The Holy Trinity, (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) gathered in a circle and proposed to each other, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” And they agreed, “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God they were created.”
Yet even though humanity was indeed “very good,” the story goes on to explain that humanity became disconnected from God, separated from their identity in God’s love, they were distracted from God’s dream for creation, and they became lost. So it was that once again, in the fullness of time, The Holy Trinity proposed another creative act, one that would bridge the gap, reintroduce love, and once again capture the hearts and minds of humanity with God’s great dream for all of creation.
William P. Young, the author of “The Shack,” imagines what that conversation might have been like, the conversation that led to Advent, to God’s great adventure among us, to the coming of Christ on that first Christmas.
William Young - “The circle of three, The Father - Son - and the - Holy Spirit, are working out the details of coming to find us in our lostness. And they break the circle, and invite a 14 year old little girl into it, and they submit to her. They say, “Here’s what we would like to do, what do you think?” And she says, “Alright, I’m in!” And they say, “Good, then we’re going in too.”
I love the way he imagines the beginnings of Christmas, the season of Advent. I love the image of God breaking open the circle and inviting someone you’d least expect into the conversation, into the process, into Christmas. God invites a young, unknown, seemingly insignificant girl named Mary - to conceive, carry, and give birth to the Christ Child. And in this child, (Jesus,) God surrenders the heavenly estate and takes on a “mean estate,” the flesh and blood of humanity. God knows there’s only one way to find us in our lostness, there’s only one way to reconnect with us, there’s only one way to capture our hearts and minds with the imagination of the Kingdom of God, and that is to become one of us, to literally “embody love.” And not just one of us, but in many ways one of the least of us, through a humble peasant named Mary. Love comes to us not from the top trickling down but rather significantly from the bottom transforming up. As is is written in the second chapter of Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.” God is willing to risk it all when it comes to humanity, when it comes to me and you, when it comes to all of us, God is truly “all in!”
Christmas can be a strange time, it’s certainly a time of great joy and excitement, a time filled with parties, feasts, concerts, and the giving and receiving of gifts. It truly is, “The most wonderful time of the year!” Yet it is also the most stressful time of the year, because all the parties, feasts, concerts, and gifts demand - lots of time, energy, and cash! And sometimes it causes us to wonder about the true meaning of Christmas, sometimes the disconnect between the Gospel story and the commercial Christmas experience is so great we might even become despondent. Sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of that Charlie Brown moment, fighting that loosing battle against the commercialization of Christmas, wanting to choose the live tree that needs a little love instead of the aluminum tree that everyone else wants, and then second guessing the whole thing, muttering “I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about.” And then in frustration shouting, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Of course his friend Linus knows, he takes center stage, and he tells them all the Christmas story as found in the Gospel of Luke.
So it is that tonight we tell that same story, because in that simple story, God once again breaks open the circle, creating an opening for humanity between heaven and earth, revealing the very heart of God, the very desire of God, the very kingdom of God. All these “things of God” will be “embodied” - in, with, and through - the child who is born unto us this day, Jesus, Emmanuel (God with us), the Christ Child.
So what does the Christ Child and the Christmas Gospel embody? In one word, “Love!”
The child born in a stable, because there was no room in the inn for his pregnant mother, reveals God’s love for those who are poor, without shelter, and found in dire conditions. God intentionally places the baby Jesus into their life. This child born in a stable will later teach us that God will always be embodied in the “least of these.” In the Christmas story we are reminded that God is love, love for you and for me, love for the stranger, and love for any and all in need.
And this love will be modeled for us in the life and teaching of Jesus. The child born in the stable will never forget his birth place; he will heal the sick, he will feed the hungry, and he will embrace the marginalized. He will demand justice for the oppressed, and tear down the walls that divide; all in the name of love, by the power of love, the love that is God.
And in the face of fear and hate, the child born in the stable will practice forgiveness and mercy, kindness and understanding, patience and humility.
And just as God came into the world risking it all for the sake of love, God will again risk it all in death on a cross, trusting that even in death love will have the last word, a word of resurrection unto life eternal and abundant.
This is what Christmas is all about, the embodiment of God in the life and teachings - and the death and resurrection of Jesus; revealing unto all the world the heart of God, the desire of God, the will of God, the salvation of God, the love of God. This is the true meaning of Christmas, the true gift of Christmas.
So how does one receive this gift, the true gift of Christmas, How does one engage the true meaning of Christmas? Look no further than Mary. Mary receives the news, the gift, with these words, “Let it be to me according to your word.” And she literally embodies the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Christ Child. And so it is that we are challenged at Christmas to let the story of Christ into our hearts and our minds, and then in turn, following the example of Mary, - embody it for all the world to see. We are invited to lean into the story and boldly live it out, to love as we have been loved, to be hope for the hopeless, to be peace for those who suffering, to be joy for those in sorrow, to be light in the darkness. The gift is received in our courage to be that gift to others! The gift of God’s love.
The good news of Christmas is that “God is all in for us.” God literally risked everything for the sake of love, that we might know we are loved, that we might experience that love, that we might become that love, that we too might be “all in” when it comes to love.
May God bless us this evening with eyes that see and ears that hear, the star in the heavens and the angel’s voices, the proclamation of the good news, that Christ is born. And may our hearts receive the gift, and in good faith, with courage respond, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings dwell;
Oh come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel.