This is my first time preaching on Christmas Eve. I am so looking forward to celebrating with my church folk tomorrow night. Merry Christmas!
God’s Gracious Gift
Preached at First Presbyterian, Parkesburg
December 24, 2010 – Christmas Eve
Text: Luke 2.1-20
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 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.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
As a lover of stories, this might be my favorite one. This story has been told for generations upon generations - in different spots across the globe; in various languages; in church sanctuaries, open fields, in rooms filled with loads of people or rooms with just a few souls; told from memory, read from Bibles with pages worn & tattered, or those with shiny, glimmering gold edges; from pulpits to pastures, it is the well-known, beloved birth story of the Christ child.
Many of you who have attended Christmas Eve services for years might even be able to recite this story by heart. Or, when you begin to hear the words, “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” you automatically know which story it is. And, it is stories such as this one that warm our hearts & make us feel the peace & comfort of this night, despite the chill.
And, we really do need this story. We live in a world that is fast-paced, instantaneous, and where the real & the not-so-real blend together in such a way, that is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish between the two. And, so we crave reality. We crave it deep in our hearts – we long for something as pure and as real as the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God.
Christmas has become a commericialized, jazzed-up production. I am reminded of one of my favorite movies of this season – A Charlie Brown Christmas. In the film, Charlie Brown has become pretty disgusted with the way the world is celebrating Christmas – from lighting contests, to overblown Christmas play productions, to his sister Sally’s long list to Santa Claus. When Charlie is charged, along with Linus, to pick out the tree for the play, he returns with the saddest little tree. After receiving much criticism, Charlie Brown wails, “Does anyone know the real meaning of Christmas?” Then, come Linus’ monologue about the true meaning of Christmas – the story of these lowly shepherds in the fields and the angel appears to them to say: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
As Linus so eloquently points out, the real meaning of Christmas is God’s gracious gift unto us: Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. It is not about big, fancy Christmas trees. It is not about big piles of gifts. It is not about picture perfect scenes. It is about Christ. The real story of Christmas. It is about this night, this holy night, where we pause in joy and in wonder, for the gift that God has given to us. And, upon hearing the story, yet again, our hearts no longer yearn, but are filled.
And we are able to exclaim from on high: Alleluia! For unto us this night, a son is born, Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.