Christmas Eve Message

Empty manger at night

Text used – Luke 2:1-20

  • It’s a busy time of year, isn’t it?
    • Shopping
    • Wrapping
    • Cooking
    • Baking
    • Decorating
    • Visiting
    • Cleaning
    • Mailing
      • Packages
      • Christmas cards
    • I know I can’t be the only one in this room this evening who feels like they’ve been running, flitting from one task to the next like a crazed hummingbird. This is a busy time of year, full of to-do lists and expectations.
      • Expectations we place upon ourselves → list of cookies that you “have” to make every year because “it’s tradition … it’s what we do at Christmas time”
      • Expectations placed on us by society → perfect-looking house inside and out – lights, garland, Christmas tree, decorations, etc.
      • Expectations placed on us by loved ones → one of my best friends from high school has 5 family Christmases to get to between her family and her spouse’s family!
    • It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy these activities. Some of them are indeed traditions that we treasure – the things that “make the holiday” for us. For example, I love sending Christmas cards – designing the photo card, writing the yearly update letter, stuffing the envelopes, attaching the special Christmas seal, and even addressing them. It’s one of my favorite things to do during the holidays. But as those boxes of cards and sheets of stamps and seals and everything sit on my dining room table (or floor) day after day as I work my way through our list, even this beloved activity becomes another thing on the to-do list. Another expectation.
  • But when we stop to think about it, are these truly the things that “make the holiday”? What would we do if we couldn’t bake those 14 types of cookies? What if we couldn’t engage in the hunt for that “perfect” Christmas gift? What if we couldn’t decorate or wrap or even visit? Would it still be Christmas?
    • According to the sage and ever-entertaining Dr. Seuss, the answer is yes:

So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow.
But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!
He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”[1]

Grinch

  • Friends, as much fun as all the trimmings and trappings of this holiday season can be, all of those things are not what bring us here to these pews tonight … to this sanctuary … to this sacred space and time. We do not gather to sing and pray and celebrate communion together because of the shopping sprees and the tinsel and the chaos of Christmas. We come for the manger. We come for the baby. We come for the miracle. We come for the holy moment. We come in search not of another thing to do but a place to pause. We come in search of our kneeling places.
    • Poem by Ann Weems: “In Search of Our Kneeling Places[2]
    • Yes, it’s true that even our Scripture reading this evening – even that familiar Christmas story that we know and love – is bustling with activity.
      • Mary and Joseph knocking on doors, searching and searching and searching for that place to rest their weary heads
      • The exertion and anxiousness and excitement of the birth
      • Angels appearing in the darkness of the hills and filling the sky with light and song
      • Shepherds hurrying to the manger-side
      • Mary and Joseph welcoming the shepherds into what was surely an awkward and personal and precious moment just after the birth of the Christ Child
      • The incredible, audacious nature of the shepherds’ report
      • But in the midst of all that holy hustle and bustle, there is Mary, quietly and steadfastly remaining in her kneeling place despite all that is going on around her and even inside her – text: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.[3]
        • Scholar: Finally, we have a blessing of peace. God sends us peace. God does not desire huge festivals, frantic preparations, or wish us boundless energy to do everything. Rather, God wishes us peace.[4]
  • On Sunday mornings in this congregation, we take a few moments of silence at the beginning of every service. It’s meant to be a time when we can refocus ourselves, when we can set aside all of those things that distract us – worries, to-do lists, and everything else. We set aside that special time so that we can prepare our hearts and our minds to intentionally encounter God in our worship. That time at the beginning of our service is our kneeling place. And tonight is no different. Yes, there are certainly still things to do – gifts to open, meals to prepare, Christmas songs to sing and stories to read, family Christmases to attend, and so on. But let this time … this night … this worship be your kneeling place – your time to pause, to reflect, to open your heart and your whole self to the worship of the miracle of the birth of Christ. Friends, let us go to Bethlehem and find our kneeling places so that we can wholly and committedly say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Holy Child.” Amen.

[1] Dr. Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (New York, NY: Random House, 1957), 42-48.

[2] Ann Weems. “In Search of Our Kneeling Places” in Kneeling in Bethlehem. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1987), 19.

[3] Lk 2:19 (NRSV).

[4] Aaron Klink. “Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20) – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 120.

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