By The Rev. Sherry Deets
Christmas Eve 2014
It’s Christmas Eve and frankly, the world just now seems a little dark, even hostile, to me. It might be the pall that seems to have hung over the national mood since the events in Ferguson and New York. Or maybe it’s the number of global “hotspots” there are in the Middle East, the Ukraine, and more. Or maybe is the number of deaths caused from Ebola and the fear that disease strikes into the hearts of folks so many thousands of miles away. Or maybe it’s the bullying threats of the North Korean government hackers. Or maybe….well you get the picture. And you may be right there with me.
So reading Luke’s Christmas gospel and preparing this homily was a little different than years’ past. What strikes me is that the events Luke describes seem incredibly small. I mean, what does Emperor Augustus or Governor Quirinius care about a pregnant teenager or wandering shepherds? Mary, Joseph, and the rest – these people are so incredibly small compared to these rulers. And yet Luke declares that whether these rich and powerful leaders care or not – whether they even notice or not – the events Luke describes in detail are going to change the whole world.
It’s an audacious claim, when you think about it: that the birth of a baby to an unwed teen amid the squalor of a backwater town could possibly matter. And yet there, in a nutshell, is the promise of the Gospel: that God regularly shows up where we least expect God to be and always for us. At Christmas we are reminded that God chose to come to us in the form of a tiny baby. God chose humanity. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way… she says that Christmas Eve is the time “when the membrane between heaven and earth is so thin you can almost see through it. Tonight is the night we measure all time against.”
Bruce Cockburn wrote a song about Christmas and part of the lyrics go like this:
There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you’ve got [you have] ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It’s a Christmas gift [that] you don’t have to buy
There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
“Ice splits starwise,” Sir Thomas Browne wrote. A tap of the pick at the right point, and fissures shoot out in all directions, and the solid block falls in two at the star. The child is born, and history itself falls in two at the star. Whether you believe or do not believe, you date your letters and checks and income tax forms with a number representing how many years have gone by since what happened happened. The very voices and bells of our world ring out on a different air, and if most of the time we do not listen, at Christmas it is hard not to.
Business goes on as usual, only more so. Canned carols blast out over shopping-center blacktops before the Thanksgiving turkey is cold on the plate. Salvation Army tambourines rattle, and street-corner Santas stamp their feet against the cold. But if you have an ear for it at all, at the heart of all the hullabaloo you hear a silence, and at the heart of the silence you hear – whatever you hear.
Humorist Garrison Keillor tells a story to which most of us can relate about being selected. He recalls the childhood pain of being chosen last for a baseball team. After all the favorites are chosen, “the captains are down to their last grudging choices: a slow kid for catcher, someone to stick out in right field where nobody hits it. They choose the last ones two at a time — ‘you and you’ — because it makes no difference. And the remaining kids — the scrubs, the excess — they deal for us as handicaps. ‘If I take him, then you gotta take him,’ they say” (Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days [New York: Viking, 1985], 181).
Just once, we would like to be chosen first. Just once, we would like to avoid the agony of waiting and waiting until everyone else has been selected. Just once, we would like to hear our name called with enthusiasm and excitement.
So listen into the silence. Have you ever considered that you are so valuable to God he chose you early … and with enthusiasm and excitement. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Because that’s what this Christmas story was made for – to shine light in dark places, to bring hope to the discouraged, insight to the lost, and the promise of peace to all who long for it.
Tonight, at this very moment, the whole world has stopped (okay, our world has stopped) simply because “a child has been born to us.” And in that child heaven came down. God chose you early and with enthusiasm and excitement. Christ is born anew in our hearts over and over again.
Merry Christmas. Amen.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.