So many of us try to live the Christmas season according to the expectations of others. We get so focused on decorating, buying presents and baking cookies. Simply wrapping presents and sending cards can take a lot of time. There is some sense of duty involved in these activities. We think we have to do it all. When we get that way it is easy to lose track of what Christmas is about and why we have come here.
I learned this week that many do not enjoy Christmas. Andy Williams sang “It is the most wonderful time of the year” but many disagree. About half of the people in a recent survey said that Christmas is just OK. Over 20 percent said that they actually hate the season of Christmas. Maybe it is that sense of responsibility that comes over people. Maybe it is the sense of loneliness that some experience. 90% of Americans say they celebrate Christmas but fewer people consider it to be a religious holiday. I find the lack of religious significance interesting since gift giving is such a Christian thing to do. After all, Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, yet many do not seem to see gift giving as a religious experience.
You have come here to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This evening, Christmas is about a baby being born. It is about God coming to earth to be part of humanity. I hope that you will spend these few minutes, this hour, putting aside the things you need to do, the work that you must complete outside of this church and allow your heart and mind to focus on the birth of Jesus. We celebrate his coming, we are thankful for God’s gift to us and we worship our Lord and Savior.
Luke’s description emphasizes the simplicity of the birth and the willingness of Jesus to humble himself for us. “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Our king takes on none of the trappings of royalty. The famous Caesar Augustus is mentioned but Jesus comes to a working class family, he is born of a peasant girl. God shows up in a place meant for animals. He is laid in a manger. Listening to the story reminds us that Jesus came to earth for every person not for a select few.
The arrival of the angels made it something special. We get a lot of angels during this season. Once again though, the story is about everyone. The angels invited common people, not the wealthy or famous or popular, to come and see the newborn child. Shepherds, the lowly folk, were told to go to the stable, to come and see this child, our God. They came and worshipped Jesus. This evening, we come to worship Jesus.
We use the term Incarnation to describe this event. It means that God came to earth, perhaps we could say that God brought heaven to earth. Incarnation means that Jesus is both God and human at the same time. The Gospel of John describes it this way, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”. The Lord has come among us. Jesus was not only God but he was also very human. Perhaps the clearest way I see his humanity is in his emotions. We read in various parts of scripture that he was joyful, that he experienced sorrow and that he displayed anger. After we are angry, we are often remorseful. Jesus truly showed his humanity when he became angry.
The coming of Jesus, his incarnation changed everything. Let me share this perspective I read from Karoline Lewis.
“The incarnation means that at the same time the incarnation is a revelation of God, it is also a revelation of who we are. We begin to realize that in God’s decision to become human that our humanity matters. We begin to recognize that in God’s commitment to bodies that our bodies matter. We begin to remember that God’s determination to be known in the flesh means that doing ministry in the flesh matters. We can respond to the coming of Jesus first by realizing that God being here matters and secondly by responding to God’s actions by doing his ministry on this earth.”
This evening is a time to reflect on the life of Jesus. As we read earlier, Jesus was born in poor surroundings and Luke believed that Jesus was especially concerned for the poor and those who suffered. Compassion is the word that best describes his willingness to help anyone and everyone. Jesus came to save those he met from their struggles and he came to save us from our sins. He cared for those in need. We have so much to be thankful for as we celebrate this birth of Jesus.
I know that there are many who come here this evening feeling alone or who are remembering this evening the loss of someone who was especially close to you. May you feel the presence of Jesus, the one who came to be with us. May you feel that Jesus is particularly close to you this evening. May you have the knowledge that Jesus came to save you from your sorrow and be thankful for all that God has done.
In our collect, we pray for “this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light”. In the reading from Isaiah “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus changes everything, brings light and eliminates the darkness. In John’s Gospel Jesus even proclaims this, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ We receive that light and it becomes a source of strength to us. This week someone shared a phrase that they received in a Christmas card. Jesus comes to us and to give us light. All we have to do is turn on the switch. If we are open to Jesus then his light will shine in us and that same light will shine through us to the whole world. Gift giving is one small example of what Jesus wants us to do. In the reading from Titus Jesus gave himself for us, he forgives us for our sins and he prepares us to do good deeds in this world.
It truly is a matter of responding to the light of Christ.
George Herbert, a seventeenth century priest and writer said it this way,
The shepherds sing; and I shall silent be?
My God, no hymn for thee?
My soul’s a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts and words and deeds:
The pasture is thy word; the streams thy grace,
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing,
And all my powers
Out-sing the daylight hours.
Let the celebration begin. Let us respond with joy to the coming of the Christ child by singing out hymns of praise.
In addition to the feelings of thanksgiving and joy, I hope that you will also have a sense of peace. It is a peace that comes only from Jesus. It is a sense that God will make things right in your world. It is the knowledge that God lives in your heart and will help you to share that peace with others around you. Isaiah spoke of the Prince of Peace. The angels declared this to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” May you feel God’s special peace this evening.
Let me paraphrase from a prayer written by Leslie Weatherhead.
Loving Father, as we think of the little Child of Bethlehem, make us glad that you the Almighty, the Creator, the Infinite, Whose Being is utterly beyond even the power of our loftiest thought and most daring imagination, can speak to us in a little Child. Save us from being impressed too much by the impressive. Help us to see You in simple things: a child’s life, birdsong, the quiet loveliness of dawn, human friendship and the peace of our homes. We bow in worship before the majesty of heaven revealed in human life. Accept our worship and make our lives more like His. Amen.