Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve


December 24, 2009

Luke 2.1-20

Well, here it is. Christmas Eve. Now, as we enter this holy night, I have to admit something. Some of you, in the midst of the craziness and hustle and bustle of these past few weeks have heard me make a confession I really didn’t want to make. In the midst of being exhausted and tired and overwhelmed by everything, I let slip my secret: Christmas is not one of my favorite seasons. I have tried. I have made every effort throughout the years to celebrate and enjoy this holiday. But it just has never really endeared itself to me.

Now, to be clear, I am not talking here about Jesus’ birth or Advent or anything of the spiritual things associated with this season. Rather, I have never been a big fan of all the Christmas trappings that go along with his holiday.

Still, despite my frustrations over the actual season, tonight I, like most of you, feel a little tinge of excitement on Christmas Eve. I, like most of you, know that tonight is just a little more special than any other night. Something holy and beautiful is happening around us tonight.

Throughout this past Advent, it seems to me that the one prevailing prayer I (and, in various forms, everyone of us) has been praying is that wonderful prayer we find in the book of Revelation: Lord Jesus, come quickly. I preached earlier in Advent on the importance of that simple prayer and how it truly sums up what we anxiously look forward to during the Advent season and throughout our spiritual lives. We, as Christians, are looking for the answer to that prayer: Lord Jesus, come quickly. It seems that the answer to that prayer will bring with it all the answers. When Jesus comes to us, our questions of life and death will be answered. Our enemies will be vanquished. All will be made right.

And tonight, here on this Christmas Eve, that prayer has been answered. We realize that Jesus has come to us. But what we find in his coming is that our questions about life and death have not been answered. We still don’t understand life and we still fear death. Our enemies have not been vanquished. In fact, sometimes, they seem to be triumphing all the more. And as we look around this world—at the violence, at the crime, at the war and injustice of this world, at the racism and homophobia and sexism that still exists—we realize all has not been made magically right.

And what we expected in our Savior, our Redeemer our Messiah—what we thought would be the mighty warrior coming with sword in hand to shield us and vanquish the forces of evil—we instead find a Child. We find a vulnerable human baby, born of a teenage mother under mysterious and scandalous circumstances. And still, despite all of that, somehow, on this evening, holiness shines through to us. Our prayer—Lord Jesus, come quickly—has been answered and we know that although it has not been cataclysmic, something incredible still has happened.

As the great Archbishop of Canterbury (and probably the greatest of my personal heroes), Michael Ramsey once wrote: “Our Christmas is no less Christmas and our joy no less joyful because we are keeping Christmas with a very dark and troubled world around us…Our rejoicing at Christmas is not an escape from life’s grim realities into a fancy realm of religion and festivity. Rather is it a joy that, as we face and feel the world’s tragedy, we know that God has an answer: an answer for [hu]mankind to receive. In a word, this is a time of hope.”

Tonight, in this dark, cold night, we celebrate that hope. While darkness still exists, we now see that in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light. It is dim at times. It doesn’t seem like much. But it is there. And as we strain into that darkness, we realize that hope comes to us as Light. We celebrate hope of that Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darknesses. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration. And as it does, we hold bask in the glory of those two emotions—the two emotions Christmas is all about—hope and joy.

Hope—in our belief that what has come to us—Jesus—God made flesh—is here among us, Our prayer, “Lord Jesus, come quickly” has been answered in ways more remarkable then we originally thought. And Joy—at the realization of that reality.

As we come forward tonight to meet with joy and hope this mystery that we remember and commemorate and make ours this evening, we too should find ourselves feeling these emotions at our very core. This hope and joy we are experiencing this evening comes up from our very centers. We will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a barn in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. Our lives are different because of what happened that evening. This baby has taken away, by his very life and eventual death, everything we feared and dreaded.

When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we realize that yes, our Advent prayer has been truly answered. When we prayed “Lord Jesus come quickly,” he truly did come to us quickly. He comes to us where we are. And as he does, we find that our joy is a joy like few other joys we’ve had. We find that our hope is more tangible—more real—that anything we have ever hoped in before. And that is what we are rejoicing in this evening.

Our true hope and true joy is not in brightly colored lights and a pile of presents under a decorated tree. Our true hope and joy is not found in the malls or the stores. We know that our true hope and joy are not there because by Saturday, we’re going to see that what the rest of the society is celebrating in this Christmas season will be disposed of. By Saturday, the wrapping paper and the boxes will be on the curbs and so will many of the trees. Our true hope and joy is more powerful and more tangible than anything that is so disposable. Our true hope and joy does not come to us with things that will, a week from now, be a fading memory.

Our hope and joy is in that Baby who, as he comes to us, causes us to leap up with joy at his very presence. Our hope and joy is in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager under scandalous circumstances in a dusty third world land. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live. But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us.

So, yes, I guess maybe all our expectations of Jesus’ coming have, in fact, been fulfilled. Slowly, but surely, he does make all things right—eventually. This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful night. This is why we are feeling within us a strange sense of happiness and excitement. This is why we are rushing toward our Savior who has come to visit us in what we once thought was our barrenness.

Let this hope you feel tonight as Jesus comes to us stay with you now and always. Let the joy you feel tonight as Jesus comes to us in love be the motivating force in how we live our lives throughout this coming year.

Jesus is here. He is in our midst tonight. He is so near, our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. So, greet him tonight with all that you have within you and welcome him into the shelter of your hearts.

Amen.