A Sermon for Christmas, Luke 2:1-14
Of Great Joy!
For all the people!
What a wonderful pronouncement!
Christ is born this night and it is good news that brings with it great joy, news and joy that is to be shared with, felt by, all the people. It’s a surprising announcement. The shepherds aren’t exactly expecting a heavenly host to suddenly appear amongst them while they are out tending their sheep late into the night. Perhaps that’s what makes this night that much greater of an event. It is unexpected.
Sure, the prophets told of this day coming, at some point. But after some time, you begin to hear those proclamations less clearly, their impact lessens the further you become removed from the foretellers, you get on with your life because there are tasks at hand, sheep to tend. No one really expects these prophecies of a coming Messiah to actually happen, at least not in their lifetime. And, even those who are expectant, cannot begin to think that it is going to happen exactly this way, that of a young woman, traveling with her betrothed, giving birth in a stable to the King of Kings.
But then, it happens. The night that had long ago been prophesied, happens. And not only does it happen, but the heavenly host comes down to let you know that it has happened. The heavenly host shares this news because heaven is bursting with excitement, it cannot be contained.
This is THE night. The night of good news, the night of great joy, the night for all the people. Tonight is the night that we have all been waiting for, preparing ourselves for, the night the prophecies come true, the night the Word is made flesh, the night the Light comes into the world.
This is a special night, here, now. On Christmas Eve we are unified together with all others across the world who joyously come together to welcome the baby child in our midst. We are unified too with those who sit at home, holding onto the inherent hope of this night, who, if even for just a fleeting moment, feel a connection with the wider world that is rejoicing at the coming of Christ.
There is a special type of hope that is present in this night. It is a hope that is placed upon a vulnerable, yet powerful person, a baby, lying in a manger. It is hope in the promise that is held in this little baby, wrapped in swaddling cloth, sleeping peaceably in the manger. Unaware of the hope of all people that rests with him. It is a special type of hope that unifies us across whatever false boundaries we try to put between each other. It is a special type of hope that stands against the way of the world to usher in a new way, a new path, a new life coming out of this new life amongst us. Even if it feels like the world is crumbing down around us, this night affords us a reprieve. This night affords us a breather. A chance to hold onto hope in a tangible and meaningful way. We all have access to this hope on this night. We all experience a taste of this hope on this night, even if it is just for a fleeting moment.
We are filled with this hope this night. We are filled with the knowledge that good news has come to us, that great joy is at our fingertips, what has felt achingly just out of reach is now here with us. The preparations we have made were all worth it. Christ has come to be with us, and it is this good news of great joy for all the people, that gives us hope this night, that allows others to hope on this night, even if hope is a state not often felt in their life.
It is this special hope that surely steeled Mary and Joseph on this night. Mary, filled with the knowledge that God will afford for this child, is sitting, watching this child that she has carried, that is forever connected with her, sleeping in a manger of all places. I wonder what Mary must have felt on this night?
Joseph sits beside her, holding her, watching this sleeping child and wondering what it all means. His son, but not his son. A child, but one day a king. I wonder what Joseph must have felt on this night?
As they sit together, wondering, loving, simply being present in this moment, they sit in this hope that comes in this night. It is a hope that lets them know that someway, somehow, it’s all going to work out the way it is intended. It is a hope that affirms their faith that through God, this child will be that bearer of good news with great joy to all the people. It is a hope that we too must hold in this moment together.
Be present here tonight in this one moment. Be present in the hope that rests in this moment. Be present in the wondering and loving of Mary and Joseph. Be present in the heavenly host bursting out of heaven with the greatest excitement to share the message that good news of great joy has come to be among all people. Let everything else fade away and simply behold the child that has come to us. Sit with Mary and Joseph in that stable, looking at that manger, and give into the hope that they must have found in that moment. Hope even in the face of something wholly unexpected. Hope in faith, in belief, in trust.
And, what do we hope for?
We hope that our faith, our belief, is rewarded. We hope that our faith, our belief is meaningful, is purposeful. We hope that our faith can bring peace, that through our faith we can see justice, that in our faith we make the truth known. We hold onto this hope, letting it fill us. We hunger for this special type of hope and are renewed in it on this night. This is why we make the commitment to be here, in this place, tonight, more so than we commit at any other time of the year.
We are not here out of a sense of duty, an artifact of tradition, a remnant of a past life still holding on (although some of us may feel that’s why we’re here). Rather, tonight holds up something different than what we experience at any other point of the year. We are drawn into this place because we sense something different at work in this night. We are drawn to be with others to come and behold. On this night, more so than on any other night, we get to hold up a deep and filling sense of hope in the potential that has come into the world. We get to marvel at the act of God being made flesh in his Son Jesus Christ, and embrace the hope of what is to come through this radical and giving act of grace and mercy, a radical act of seeking understanding so that our creator and the creation may come to better know one another, so that our creator and the creation may rejoice in hope together for our potential.
God is so excited at the potential in this moment that Gabriel and the entire heavenly host descend out of heaven in great rejoicing to proclaim what has been done. And, they share this good news not with rulers or authorities who feel threatened by any perceived approach on their position, but rather they share it with simple people who can grasp the hope in this moment, who know the pure joy that has been gifted them, who can see this moment, this night, for what it truly is, without concern for how it might impact the order of the world. Shepherds who come to know that their relationship with the creator is changing. Shepherds who come to know that this baby child, born on this night, will change everything.
May we also come to grasp this night for what it is. May we also be emboldened to hold onto the hope that is found in this night. Let it fill us. Let is sustain and empower us. Let it motivate, challenge, and drive us. And in so doing, may we rejoice that good news of great joy has come for all the people.