Here's my message from Christmas Eve. I had meant to post it before now, but you know how things go this time of year...with any luck, I'll share some other Christmas Eve and Longest Night thoughts from years past (though because of the demise of my flash drive, I will be retyping each one of them, not just copying and pasting), before Christmas is over next Monday! And then, who knows what I'll write about...
Christmas Eve Homily 2013
When we got ready to go to the first party of the season this year, we tried to explain to our two-year-old that we were going to a Christmas party…and his response was, “A birthday party? For ME?!” Needless to say, as you might expect with a two-year-old, we have a little ways to go before we completely understand the concept of Christmas parties, or the “real” meaning of Christmas, at all!
But as we read the Christmas story, we see a whole host of people asking that same question, “For ME?!” In part of the story that we didn’t read tonight, Zechariah asked the angel, “For ME?!” when the angel told him he would have a son, who would become John the Baptist. Unfortunately for Zechariah, asking that question got him 9 months of no speaking! When the angel came to Mary she asked, “For ME?!” and then proclaimed her obedience to God, in the face of certain scandal and questioning by the people around her, when she was found to be with child.
When the angel showed up in the middle of a dark and quiet night, to some dirty shepherds out in a field, that angel didn’t wait for the shepherds to ask, “For ME?!” The angel said, “I am bringing you news of great joy for all 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.” (Luke 2:11-12) And then all the angels showed up in full force, to make sure the shepherds got the point—something BIG had happened—for them, and for all people!
We should know that this news is for all of us, and makes a difference in our lives. We should know that God has given a sign to us, that the world would never be the same after the birth of that one baby boy. But sometimes, instead of knowing that the news and the gift are for all of us, even us sinners, we ask, “For ME?!” because we don’t think we could accept such a gift. We don’t think we are worth such an offer as a Savior, as God-with-us, just like sometimes we don’t accept someone else’s Christmas gift because it seems too much for us. But the good news of Christ is for us, for all of us, and there is nothing God wants more than for us to accept that good news and the gift of grace.
Now, sometimes when we ask, “For ME?!” we think it’s something we don’t need. We forget that we need to accept the gift of Christ’s grace, that God isn’t offering us a bonus of some sort, but something our very souls have been longing for—the opportunity to be made right with God, the grace that is greater than all our sins. The good news of Christmas isn’t just a nice message or a frivolous “extra” offered to us by God, but the one and only thing we’ve been needing for longer than we even knew.
Other times, we forget that Christmas isn’t actually about us, but it is for us. Though the story of Christmas, as scripture tells it, includes a large cast of characters and we learn some very intriguing things about many of them, it is really about God’s work in their lives and in the world through their lives. When we lose perspective and forget about that, we can also forget that Christ came for all people, not as a gift some deserved for being extra good. The most important person in the story is the one who comes without words, without being able to do anything for himself, the child who was promised, the child who is announced by angels, who comes for us all.
His birth was announced first to those who were outcasts and commoners—shepherds—and not to powerful rulers. So they went to check the facts, Luke tells us, and then they went to tell others: “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.” (Luke 2:17-18) It was a grass roots effort, the night that Christ was born—some old dirty shepherds had the news to share, and the people wouldn’t have known if the shepherds hadn’t told it. And then, Luke says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)
So yes, Christmas is for me and for you! We don’t have to ask and wonder. We don’t have to feel like we’re not good enough for Christ to come for us. We don’t have to think we’re not ready enough for Christ to come for us. When we hear the story again, the amazing, incredible, crazy story about a baby who comes to save us all, who is God right here with us, we don’t have to ask, “For ME?!” Like the shepherds, we can know that it’s true and praise God for the wonder of it all.
But there’s one other thing I should tell you about what my son has been up to recently. He has also taken to taking things out of the shopping cart when we’re in a store somewhere, and handing them to people who walk by, saying, “For YOU!” And once we know the story, and remember again that it is the story of God at work, come to save all of us, we are sent out to do like those shepherds did, to tell others and let them know the story is, “For YOU!”
Will you come and receive the Christ tonight, born in a manger, God-with-us, come to save us all? Will you come and believe the story again, no matter how many times you have heard it before? And then, will you go and share it with others, praising God for God’s mighty and wondrous deeds, at Christmas and always?