“…. to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Before you extinguish your candle, take a moment and look around…see the light transforming the darkness…see one another in heavenly peace…see the dawning of a new hope… Take a breath, in – out. And another, deeper and let it the wonder of this night sink into your soul. And with your next breath, blow out your candle and sit down to Christmas.
Imagine your pew is a bale of hay for we find ourselves in a stable behind an inn where a young woman has just given birth to a baby boy. Her husband tells the tale of how they are far from home, obeying the emperor’s command, and that he couldn’t find a room, just this place, while the mother counts her child’s fingers and toes, strokes his tiny ears, touches his downy hair and then wraps him in her arms.
This birth scene is so intimate that the Gospel writer Luke gives the family privacy by starting a new paragraph. Now we are out in the fields with shepherds of all people, night shift workers protecting the flock from danger, just as the night shift does in our time and place. It’s a boring job pierced with moments of fear when predators threaten. But on this night the fear comes not from danger but a brilliant angel who tells them and us not to be afraid and then announces good news for all the people — a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord, has been born in Bethlehem. Look for a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger. An exclamation point is added by a choir of angels singing Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
This night we’re given a Savior! A Savior who comes to us as a vulnerable baby, meeting us in our vulnerability. Martin Luther writes of this, “For our sakes the Savior has taken on flesh and blood from a woman, that his birth might become our birth. I too may boast that I am a son of Mary.” Let me add, “Women may boast that they are daughters of Mary.” Luther goes on, “This is the way to observe this feast – that Christ be formed in us. It is not enough that we should hear his story if the heart be closed. I must listen, not to a history, but to a gift.”
Open your heart and let’s be honest. What do you, do we, need to be saved from? Self-righteousness? Self-centeredness? Maybe self-loathing? Fear? Helplessness? Numbness? Greed? Death? Anger? Anxiety? Addiction? Ourselves? Others? All the ways we have tried to be God? All the ways we have failed to be human? Someone once asked me, “Why do we always begin Christmas Eve worship with confession? Puts a damper on the party, doesn’t it?” The person was right if all we want is a “Merry little Christmas.” But if we long for more, if we seek salvation, then we begin by acknowledging our need for a Savior. Tonight, we were bluntly honest confessing our sin against God and our neighbor.
Then we heard the angel’s words “I bring you good news of great joy for all the people – to you is born a Savior, Christ the Lord” followed by the declaration, “Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name.” Jesus’ name, the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua, means “God saves.” Not you or me or our politics or our religion or anything else. God saves. Hear this – you are forgiven, you are loved, you are redeemed, you are saved. Tonight, there is even more, for as Luther put it, “Christ is formed in us.” In the Christ Mass, we will make of our hands a manger and receive in the bread the very body of Jesus. Christ becomes formed in us and goes with us. We are saved to share God’s love with the world.
This is the first thing those shepherds do. They run to Bethlehem to see the child for themselves. They announce the birth telling the tired parents about the angel’s song and how their wee little one is the Savoir. Then they return to the fields singing God’s praises over the hills and everywhere, sharing God’s love.
What of us? How do we do this? How will we sustain the joy and wonder of this holy night when the decorations have been packed up, the tree dragged out to the curb, and the credit card bills start arriving in the mail? Or even tomorrow. When I was a child one Christmas morning after my sisters and I opened our many presents, wrapping paper strewn everywhere, one of us dared to ask, “Are there more?” I still remember the look of hurt and disappointment on my mother’s face. Sharing God’s love can be a challenge with our own families, let alone the world. For this God gives us five precious gifts.
First, the gift of prayer. Surely Mary and Joseph prayed for safe travel and a safe delivery of their child. Prayer is talking with and listening to God as you would a friend. Writer Annie Lamont says there are three kinds of prayer: Thanks, Help and Wow. Thanks for this night, for the light and the darkness. Help when stuck in fear and anxiety. WOW for the glorious pink, purple and blue sunrise. Pray daily.
Next, the gift of God’s Word in the Bible. When Joseph needed convincing that Mary’s pregnancy was an act of God and not another man, the angel of the Lord turned to words of the prophet Isaiah to explain the conception. When we need convincing of God’s love in our lives, scripture is there for us too. Read it each day – perhaps using the suggested list of texts that’s in Life Together or the wonderful little prayer books called Christ in Our Home. Better yet, join a Bible study. Come to the new one that will start on Sunday, January 7th at 9:30 am. Read God’s word diligently.
The gift of worship – of gathering together to experience God’s forgiveness, to hear God’s Word, to share God’s peace, to receive God in bread and wine, to be blessed by God to go back into the world to share God’s love. This is what the angels were doing when they were singing, “Glory to God in the highest.” Worshiping! Luther said, the “joy was so great that the angels could not stay in heaven but had to break out and tell man on earth.” Don’t deprive yourself of this precious gift by waiting for Easter or next Christmas and in doing so putting yourself on a diet of devoid of grace and glory. Worship weekly.
Now the gift of serving, of stepping outside of your self and caring for others. Mary does this when she says to Angel Gabriel, “Here am I, the servant of the lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She smuggles God into the world, becoming a missionary. We are called to do the same. Your mission might be as a member of a board who dares to ask the difficult questions that go beyond what’s legal to what’s ethical. There’s a difference. Or taking caring of a sick neighbor or serving in leadership here at St. John’s or becoming a fire fighter. You’ll figure it out. Know, it’s always involves sharing God’s love. Serve joyously.
Finally, the gift of giving. This is what God does this Holy Night. God gives his only begotten son to live among us, to give us power to becomes children of God, to save us. All of our gifts are a mere reflection of this glory. In the giving whether it is one of song or service, one of money or resources, whether it is the little drummer boy with his persistent rum pum pum pum or the gift of our hearts, we are saved to share God’s love, now and forever. Give generously.
May we receive the gift of Christ our Savior with delight and joyously share his love with the world. Amen
Martin Luther, The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H. Bainton, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1948, 44.