Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sermon, Christmas Eve 2008, Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas!

Tonight marks the end of Advent. Tonight, all of our preparation ends as we move into the Christmas season. Tonight marks the beginning, the first day, of Christmas. Tonight, we celebrate the arrival of our God and King, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and he is a baby.

Tonight the celebration begins. I say this every year, but don't be fooled by the radio, the TV or the magazines; Christmas does not end on December 26. Christmas begins tonight and our worship here celebrates the first of the 12 days of Christmas.

Christmas, we have to admit, is a big deal. In some places it feels like it starts before Thanksgiving, and in most places it seems to start the day after Thanksgiving. Heck, even the Super Bowl only has a two-week media blitz; so Christmas is a big deal, we know that.

But sometimes we do things out of habit or tradition without really examining or asking ourselves, "Why?" Like the story of the woman who always cut the ends off the roast before cooking it, if we only do it because we've always done it that way, then we might lose sight of the reason behind our actions. So tonight I am going to ask you three questions for you to consider.

The first question is, "Why have you come tonight?" For some of us, the answer is simply, "This is what we do." There are those here who attend corporate worship on a regular basis and this is another aspect of that.

There are those who, once or twice a year, feel the pull of attending church. For whatever reason, regular weekly worship is not a part of their lives; but twice a year they feel the need to attend services. Even non-football fans watch the Super Bowl.

Others may attend because they simply love this service. The music, the candlelight mass, the liturgy . . . maybe it reminds them of childhood or that ever-elusive Norman Rockwell postcard setting. We try to get this one right, and maybe the pull of its specialness has drawn you in.

Regardless of your own personal answer to the "why" question -- whether because church is what you do, or you only attend at Christmas and Easter, or because you love this service -- regardless of your answer, I will argue that you were all called to be here.

"And an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and said, 'To you is born this day a Savior, the Messiah, and you will find him in a manger'." The shepherds, who probably had better things to do, were called into town to participate in a world-changing event.

You all were called as well. You could be home enjoying dinner, or wrapping gifts, or watching The Grinch, or setting out milk and cookies. You could be doing a hundred other things; but instead you chose to listen to the call of the angels and have come to participate in this world-changing event.

The second question is, "Who, or what, have you come to see?" I am willing to bet that some here tonight have come to see the church. Not only is St. Paul's beautiful in its own right, but some have no doubt heard about the refurbishing job this building has experienced: new, lighter paint; refinished and brighter floors; and gorgeous new carpet with a proper aisle. Add to that the candles and flowers, and this place truly is a sight to behold.

And some may have come to see the preacher. The people of our congregations and I have been inviting people to church for the past 4-1/2 years, and people are responding to that invitation. And in some respects, this service is sort of like oral exams: I preach and you grade; and if I pass, you just might come back.

But deep down, we know that neither of those are the real reason we are here. Both the building and the preacher are ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The answer to the "who" question is the baby. For those of us who have had children, we all know that the reason parents and family and friends come to visit isn't to see us, it's to see the baby.

And isn't that why we are really here? "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place . . . so they went with haste and saw Mary, Joseph and the child lying in the manger." Like the shepherds, we have come to see the child. We have come to gaze upon the face of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, in the form of a newborn baby. And for a brief moment, the angels, shepherds, and us, pause and say, "This is the one."

We have answered the angels call to come. We have gazed upon the face of the Christ child. And that leaves the final question: "What will you do now?" Most of us will return to life as normal. Whether you only come to church once or twice a year, or whether you are regular members of this or another parish, we will go home, open gifts, wish people a Merry Christmas, and then carry on with our lives. Work, school, maybe a vacation, un-decorating -- life goes on and we are part of it.

But what if . . . What if we became like angels and shepherds? The angel said, "I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people." When the shepherds arrived at the manger, they made known what had been told them about this child. And then the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God.

Let us not forget, Christmas is a big deal. It's the day God became incarnate in the form of a baby who was shut out of people's lives and had to be born away in a manger. We were called to be here and participate in this world-changing event. Will we leave here glorifying and praising God and telling people it? Will we make known the good news of great joy for all people?

We can follow the example of the angels and shepherds, or we can be like the woman in the story who cut off the ends of the roast before cooking it because she had always done it that way. She did it that way because her mother did it that way. And her mother did it that way because her mother's mother had done it that way. When they finally asked Grandma why she did it that way, she said, "Because my pan was too short."

Will we leave here trying to contain God by limiting his size and cutting him off to fit our lives? Or will we leave here sharing a gift that is too big for us to contain, inviting others to come and worship, and glorifying and praising God?

May you be as excited about this birth as you were, are, or will be about the birth of your own child, telling everyone you know about it.

Merry Christmas.


Padre Mickey | 6:41 PM, December 25, 2008  

¡Feliz Navidad, Rev. Ref. y the Lovely Wife! From Padre Mickey y the Lovely Mona (aren't we both lucky to have Lovely Spouses?).

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