God of all time and every place; as you came into one place at one time, may we know that you are with us in in this—our time and our place. Be as near as our own breath: come in word and sacrament; come any way you choose. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
The race to Christmas has finally come to the finish line. From the rev up to tonight, which began at Thanksgiving, or Halloween, if you are an over achiever, has come to a screeching halt. You can slow down now. Any cards that haven’t been sent, presents not purchased, or meals unmade will have to wait, because now, just for a moment, you are invited to take a breath. Turn off your cell phone, forget the list, take off your coat and come in from the cold, settle into the pew and hear again the story of Christmas in the place it’s best to hear it, in church, decked to the nines in all its finery, trees aglow, even carols and singing by the candlelight.
If you are fortunate enough to be sitting with a family member, don’t take that for granted. Think for a few seconds about the person or people with whom you are sharing this night, and take a second to be grateful for their presence. Treasure the moment with them. This will be the only Christmas that you will have this Christmas, don’t let it go by without treasuring this memory in your heart. If it was sort of a mess to get here, or you left a mess back home, just leave it there, it doesn’t matter right now.
If there is a void in your heart tonight, a gap, as you long for the presence of one who could not be here tonight, know that that ache, while painful, is overpowering love, let your tears be a healing balm. Let the warm light of God fill that empty space with his love.
That is what this night is all about, after all, isn’t. it? Essentially this is a night about how Love came to earth. It’s a story about a family that is really under a lot of stress. – Maybe you can relate. This family’s stress is messy. You see, a young ( and by young I mean teenagers) man and woman are engaged, but she’s pregnant, and that would be messy today, it was even messier back then. It’s really complicated, but they are going to try to make it work, against the odds, and certainly against society. To make matters worse this young couple is living under an oppressive government, where political tensions are running high. They have to travel to be registered, so later they can be taxed. So they have to travel, by foot. Did I mention that she is pregnant? Not just a little pregnant. Luke tells us she was great with child. So great with child, that on the way, the labor pains begin, and by the time they arrive in Bethlehem her contractions are not very far apart, and he is getting nervous, and she is trying to breathe and Bethlehem is crowded with travelers and there is no place for them and things are really getting messy now, and so someone has compassion on them and they are given the barn in the back, it may have been a cave, or shed, but nevertheless it’s where they keep the animals. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a barn, but I know that by their very nature they are messy and smelly and not exactly comfortable, but at this point the couple doesn’t care, they are just grateful, because the labor pains are one top of each other by now and she just wants to lay down. So he makes a bed of hay and she falls back and she cries out and pushers hard, and gives birth to her first born child, and he lays the baby on top of her chest and takes some cloths that she brought with her and they swaddle him, there in the dark night and suddenly everything that was messy and stressful and hectic and uncertain, falls away, because they are examining his tiny fingernails and the fuzz on his ears, and the way he moves his mouth and they both fall completely, helplessly, un-apologetically in love.
This human story of birth and family and the messiness of all, is also the holiest story of all. It’s a story that brings people out from their homes on a winter night to hear again and again. Why? Because our lives are messy. Our families are messy. They’re complicated. No one has achieved the perfection gene. Our world is messy, and let’s just leave it at that. There seems to be no easy solution to anything. In the midst of all this mess, can we truly believe that anything truly holy is possible? Can we believe something holy, that God himself can be born in our messy lives? In our messy world? Has the message of this season got any chance of conveying a message of hope and peace in our lives, when we are up against illnesses, divorce, job loss, and the weight of the world? Are we too jaded to think it possible?
It depends, I suppose on whether or not you have ever witnessed love. Because if you have witnessed love, you have witnessed God. Love is the miracle that shows up in the messiness of life and doesn’t ask for anything return. Love shows up when no one else will. Love comes and brings flowers and sits by the bedside in the hospice ward and sends email messages and writes cards and calls friends and stays in touch. Love says, “yep you really screwed up and you will have to live with the consequences, but I love you no matter what, and I will stand right next to you, because I know you will do better.”
Love does not take away the messiness of life, love makes the messiness of life liveable.
So tonight, while we retell a story over 2000 years old, we are not giving a lesson in history, we are giving a lesson in mystery, and the mystery is that we believe that Christ lives. The incarnation, God with us, is the invasion of the God of love into all times and all places. God with us then, God with us now, God with us always. Tonight we celebrate what will still be true tomorrow night, and a week from now, and next month and next summer. It never ends. The love of God is always with us.
St. Paul put it this way, “nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s love never wains.
The question is, will ours? When we leave the glow of the candles and we pack up the decorations, and unwrap the presents, will we still love God, as much as Mary and Joseph did that first night he came to earth? Can we share in that same wonder that his parents did?
Preacher Henry Van Dyke asks the question, “Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!” (Henry VanDyke. “Keeping Christmas,” 1912)
So far all of the things you done and left undone, do not let this holy night pass you by, without taking the time to open your heart, and let the love of God in and keep Christmas.
To all a glory and honor to Him. Amen.