Tonight we have left our homes and celebrations of a holiday to ensure that we are also participating in a holy event. Even if just for an hour, we have set aside the excitement and hustle of shopping and traveling, the arrival of family and friends, the extraordinary meals and the beautifully decorated homes in order to take a journey back to Bethlehem. There we join Christians from all over the earth that are doing the exact same thing this evening – worshipping the Christ Child, our newborn Savior
When families and friends get together, it is not long before someone starts to tell stories. Many of you have recently been reunited with family. That means that either to your horror or to your joy, you will soon hear the phrase “Remember when….” Others are spending Christmas away from people that they love, and the yearning for them will also make them remember stories from their past. Whether you tell these stories to others or only to yourself, it is impossible to get through Christmas Eve without a story or two. We need these stories. In a world that tries to pull us in so many conflicting directions, these stories serve as a link to our past and to our identities. They root us in the relationships, joy, and even the pain that have created our lives.
Now we gather in church as a family of faith to remember the most important story of all. Remember when .. he was born to us?” It happened thousands of years ago and in a place thousands of miles away, but it is a story we cannot forget. In a moment, we can return to the donkey in the stall and the smell of hay. A couple from out of town is exhausted and staying in a barn because they cannot find any other place to stay. The woman gives birth to her son that night, wraps him in cloth, and lays him in a manger. Soon shepherds arrive and tell an amazing story about the heavens opening up in song.
It is a story that we tell carefully to our children so they will remember every detail as if they were there when it happened and as if this is a story about them, which, of course, it is.
I remember hearing Martin Luther’s reflections on Christmas, le me share it with you
Martin Luther, reflecting on Christmas, noted how often God shows up, but not where you and I have been looking. We had sought God in the heavens, and instead God is born in an occasionally annoying, crying baby. We had thought our redemption would look more like escape from all this, and instead he joins us here. We were all looking in the wrong direction. The birth of the Christ Child reveals, among many other things, that our Christmas idealism is thin-lipped and ultimately trivial.”
Wherever tonight finds you: that is where God embraces you by taking on the flesh of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. It is that good news we announce, celebrate, and hope in this night. Like the surprised shepherds and Jesus’ parents, all Israel, welcomed this embrace.
Our Gospel Lesson tonight was from Luke 2
In one of the bibles that I was flipping through in preparing this message, I saw the following title: A Big God for a Little People—Luke 2:1–5
Our mouse in the children story thought he was insignificant, but he was not. Our lives are very similar. We, at times, believe that we are insignificant (little) …. But we are not.
Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah's mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?
Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of six billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige? If you have, don't let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God's little people—the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice. We, the children, may be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Please remember that Christmas is about what God has done, not what we have done. Christmas is about God’s attitude toward mankind and his dealing compassionately with us and not as our sins deserve. Christmas is about God changing His plans for our future.
Remember also that Christmas is a powerful symbol of birth. Each year at this time as we celebrate the birth of Jesus over two thousand years ago, we are called to be as vulnerable as a child and to open up to the possibility of new birth within ourselves. God sent his Son to lead us into new life and to help him turn darkness into light. That’s what Christmas is about.
The twelve gifts of birth are what we need to cooperate with Christ in the process of
transformation – of ourselves and the world. Christmas is a time to remember our birth, our heritage and the gifts that God intended us to claim and incorporate into our lives.
And so I quote to you from The Twelve Gifts of Birth.
At the wondrous moment you were born, as you took your first breath, a great celebration was held in the heavens and twelve magnificent gifts were granted to you:
The first is Strength. May you remember to call upon it whenever you need it.
The second gift is Beauty. May your deeds reflect its depth.
The third gift is Courage. May you speak and act with confidence and use
courage to follow your path (I think God would add: the path I have dreamed for
The fourth gift is Compassion. May you be gentle with yourself and others. May
you forgive those who hurt you and yourself when you make mistakes.
The fifth gift is Hope. Through each passage and season, may you trust the
goodness of life.
The sixth gift is Joy. May it keep your heart open and filled with light.
The seventh gift is Talent. May you discover your own special abilities and
contribute them to a better world.
The eighth gift is Imagination. May it nourish your visions and dreams.
The ninth gift is Reverence. May you appreciate the wonder that you are and the
miracle of all Creation.
The tenth gift is Wisdom. Guiding your way, wisdom will lead you through
knowledge to understanding. May you hear its soft voice.
The eleventh gift is Love. It will grow each time you give it away.
The twelfth gift is Faith. May you believe.
I don’t know what you will find under your Christmas tree tomorrow morning. But you came here, tonight, I assume to find something special that can’t be wrapped in a box and placed under a tree. What this night will offer as darkness turns to dawn is a gift from God – a baby born for us. A baby who will grow into a teacher and a savior. One to whom we can turn to for help as we try to live into the gifts of our Divine Father.
Morning will break. It will be a new day after a long night of birthing. Rejoice! And may you kneel in wonder and adoration at the gift God offers the world – feeling in your hearts the stirring of new life and a renewed hope for a better world. So leave this evening – remembering and cherishing the gifts you received at your birth. Strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love and faith. If you believe that you have lost any of the gifts along the way in your life, reclaim them tonight. Carry them home with you. You don’t need a big Santa sack, just an open and receptive heart. And then, get ready for new and abundant life. AMEN.