Christmas Eve Message

Message—The Episcopal Church of the Cross

Christmas Eve 2018

Luke 2:1-20

 

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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.

            -Luke 2:1-20

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            Good evening, everyone.  Peace be with you; and Merry Christmas!

            It’s good to be together this evening.  I hope it’s been a great day for you, and that tomorrow is for you a day of blessing, and hope, and joy, and feasting.

            Back in 1968, I was in the second grade.  I don’t remember much specific about Christmas that year.  I imagine we did what we always did in my household…went to worship on Christmas Eve, and opened presents on Christmas morning, and had family over Christmas Day afternoon.  And while I do believe it was the year I got a slot car set, I don’t remember very many details.

            Certainly, I was too young to understand that that December our nation was mostly pretty eager for the year to end.  ’68 had given us Tet; political murders; riots and violence in the streets; a divisive presidential election; a Prague Spring that had yielded to another Soviet winter.  It wasn’t too difficult to feel as if we were in a bit of a situation, and the wheels were falling off the bus.

            And so on December 21, a weary nation watched a Saturn V rocket take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  It was Apollo 8.

The mission was a rush job.  In September of that year, the Soviets had sent a space craft filled with plants, worms, and tortoises into something called cislunar orbit…which meant that they’d traveled farther than any space craft had gone before.

We were concerned the Russians had moved ahead in the race to get a man to the moon, and we wanted to get there first.  So crews were moved around; and schedules re-arranged; and on December 21 Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and Bill Anders were on their way.

            The objective of the mission was to show that we could get to the moon and bring everybody back alive.  It was a success.

            It was obvious, however, that the three astronauts would be spending Christmas at the moon; and that people would be paying attention…because it was Christmas, and they’d be at the moon, and we’d never been there before.

            NASA gave the three astronauts no instruction as to what to say to the world on Christmas Eve; just to make it appropriate.  Nobody knew what they were going to say.

            This is what they did…

            In one of their earlier orbits, they took this photo.

For the first time ever, humanity had a chance to see its home and look at itself in the mirror.  It’s said that a quarter of the earth’s population tuned into that broadcast.

            Anders, Borman, and Lovell are all still alive, but they’re not quite sure who it was that fixed upon the idea of reading from Genesis that Christmas Eve.  But they all agreed that they wanted a word on that day that spoke to everyone and that somehow appealed to our common humanity and Source.

And thus, they reminded us that Christmas to look up, and look around.

            The other day I asked one of the staff at my favorite coffee shop what Christmas meant to her.  Her response didn’t mention the birth of Jesus; but I thought what she said was very much in the Spirit of Jesus.  The first thing she said was how she loved the communal sense of this time; that people are gathered around this common moment, and common celebration; and that it seems to touch everyone and everyone seems to be nicer this time of year.  She also said that she likes being with her family; and that, yeah, sometimes there’s stress for people.  But the word she began with—and this is my interpretation of her words–was how at Christmas what separates us seems less significant than what we hold in common; that it seems we’re more likely to look up from the tops of our own shoes, and look around, and be a bit more merciful, and understanding, and connected.

            In the Gospel According to John, Jesus says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son…”

            He does not say “For God so loved the Church;” or “For God so loved the Christians;” or “For God so loved the ‘spiritual people.’”  He says “For God so loved the World.”  The World.  It is for the Word the Son was given.  For the whole thing; every person; people of every color, every culture, every faith; our friends, and our enemies.

            That is how big God is; that is the greatness of the Lord’s love; and so to reveal that love, he arrives the way all of us arrive:  in a tiny package of flesh and blood; of bones and muscles and ligaments; breathing and eating and sleeping and filling his diaper; as defenseless, dependent, and vulnerable as we were in the first moments of our lives; born in a tiny corner of the world to which few paid attention; away from home; outside; to a poor peasant couple living under an oppressive government they were powerless to change; born not into satin sheets, but into danger…for if you know the story, you know that soon they will have to run away…

…all to prove to us that he comes to us, wherever we are, in whatever situation we find ourselves; regardless of our skepticism or faith; or whether we think we’re too lost to receive it, too proud to ask for it, or too “good” to need it.

            God goes big.  But to go big, first the Lord goes small.

            I’m glad you’re here tonight.  I hope it’s a blessing to you.  If you’re here for the first time, welcome.  It’s hard to walk into a church for the first time.  We’re grateful you took a chance on walking into this one, and we hope it is for you a moment of grace.

            And I pray, that each of us leave this space this evening having let settle in our soul that Christmas is God’s declaration of boundless love for you; and the person sitting next to you; and every soul in this room; and every soul on this earth, and whoever has been or will be on this earth.

            The Lord loves you, and loves the world…remember, it’s “Joy to the World” we sing at the end of worship…and God has chosen to dwell among humanity; to set up a home among us.

            I’ve said this before; I’ll say it tonight; and I’ll say it again because it is for me a visceral truth:  We are hard-wired to be connected with the One who gives us life, and hope, and healing.  It’s the way God made us

So that One reaches out; and Christ is Born in Bethlehem…

            …and in this space…

            …and in our hearts…

            …and in all the Earth.

            Good News, for all the people, as the angel says.

            Merry Christmas, friends.  God bless you; and I bid you a most joyful, and hopeful, and peace-filled celebration.

            Now let’s stand and say our prayers:

***

Our Prayers this Christmas Eve

 

Prayer Leader:  Loving God, we gather this holy night to give you thanks and praise; to linger in the joy of your arrival; and to be in prayer.  We pray for all your people, everywhere.  Fill us with your grace and truth.

                        Lord, in your mercy;

People:            Hear our prayer.

Prayer Leader:  We place before you our own households; our neighborhoods; the Greater Austin community; and the World.  We pray for all nations and peoples.  To the shepherds your angels pronounced peace to all the earth.  Give us the will to work and pray for that peace daily.

                        Lord, in your mercy;

People:            Hear our prayer.

 

Prayer Leader:  We pray for all healing and reconciliation.  We pray for the sick; for those who grieve; for those searching for today’s meal and those with no safe place to rest their head this evening.  We pray for those who have asked us to pray for them, and for those prayed for by no one else.  We ask for the grace to be your servants and witnesses, and to reveal your love to the world.

            We thank you for the Serene Hills giving us a home this evening.  Watch over and bless all student and parents; all teachers, staff, and administrators.

                        Lord, in your mercy;

People:            Hear our prayer.

 

Prayer Leader:  We pray for the men and women of the armed forces; for all police officers, firefighters, and first responders; and for all who work tonight while we worship.

                        Lord, in your mercy;

People:            Hear our prayer.

 

Prayer Leader:  We thank you for the saints who rejoice with the angels in your nearer presence, and thank you for the promise of your heavenly banquet table.

                        Lord, in your mercy;

People:            Hear our prayer.

 

Prayer Leader:  And now, Lord God, we place before you what rests upon our hearts this evening, either silently or aloud…

 

Prayer Leader:  Loving God, we are a grateful people.  You are the Light of the World, come to all the Earth, and we love you.  We thank you for every gift; for the grace of this evening; for the beauty of hope; for good tidings of great joy to all the people.  With full and grateful hearts, we thank you for Christmas; for your Son Jesus, born this night of Mary and taking our human nature upon himself, and dwelling with all humanity.  Thank you.

We offer you these prayers and praises, in your Most Holy Name.  Amen.