So…here we are! Christmas Eve. When you’re 4 years old, it seems like Christmas will NEVER come. When you’re 57 years old, it feels like you are on a runaway train and Christmas Day is the station! Advent- the season leading up to Christmas- began 4 weeks ago. It all leads up to tonight.
What are your best Christmas memories? I have shared some of mine this season. But overall, the best memories I have of Christmas all revolve around being with family, laughing, sharing, just enjoying being with each other. And this has been one such Christmas season. I am grateful.
Our Christmas season sermon series has been Silent Night, Holy Night. Tonight marks the 200th anniversary of the beloved hymn that has become a bedrock of the Christmas season. We have spent the weeks leading up to Christmas looking at this hymn and how its words impact our holiday season.
Each week, we’ve focused on one of the 4 verses of this classic hymn. We have sung that verse, acapela, and then heard part of the Christmas Gospel read. We then have talked a bit about the ongoing history of the hymn and how that day’s verse applies to the larger story of Christmas.
Luke 2:6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
We’ve talked about Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber coming together 200 years ago this Christmas Eve to write and present Silent Night for the first time. We talked about it being written for guitar because the church organ wasn’t working. We talked about the organ repairman hearing the newly-minted hymn and taking it out into the world. We talked about two prominent families helping it spread all the way to the thrones of Europe. We’ve talked about it being brought to the United States and, in 1863, translated into English. We’ve talked about it being one of the most-sung songs of all-time- translated into more than 300 languages. And we’ve talked about the fact that the original manuscript was lost. Mohr’s name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was actually composed by a famous composer, and it was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated 1820, putting Mohr and Gruber back where they belonged. “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!”
Why Bethlehem? Makes no sense. You would have picked Jerusalem- the capital city. Or Rome- the power center of the Ancient Near Eastern World. Or at least Nazareth- Mary and Joseph’s home town. Why Bethlehem? Did you know that “Bethlehem” means ‘house of bread’? Jesus came down to earth to be the “Bread of Life”. SO, God saw fit for His Son, the “Bread of Life”, to be born in the “house of bread”. And notice that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Wrapped. It’s the 1st Christmas and Jesus was “wrapped” as a present from God to the world. Jesus is a love gift from God. The time was right. The stage was set. Everything was ready. And then…Jesus was born. It was God’s plan, God’s timetable and God’s design. God was in charge- God had a purpose.
Why the shepherds? Why wasn’t Jesus’ birth announcement delivered to the Mayor of Bethlehem? Or the City Council? Or the Priests? I mean, almost ANYBODY but the shepherds! They were 2nd class citizens. They didn’t smell good, They didn’t dress well. They didn’t have much book learnin’. Most of them were shepherds because they didn’t really know how to do anything else. So why them? They weren’t asleep. Everybody else in town was sound asleep. But these lowly, poor, humble shepherds were READY!
There are a lot of Christians who are “spiritually asleep”- and missing out on the peace, joy and blessings of God. If salvation could be purchased, only the rich would be saved. If salvation could be gained by being very moral, only the good would be saved. If salvation could be reached by prominence, only the famous would be saved. If salvation could be earned by strict adherence to religion, only the pious would be saved. But God doesn’t call those who are equipped- He equips those who are called.
We have a saying at this church- “God is good, all the time!” And that’s easy to say when everything is all kittens and moonbeams. But what about…when it’s NOT? Well, I just stopped by here this evening to tell you that God is good on the good days AND the bad ones. When our stress level is about to pop the overflow valve and spew everywhere…God is good. When we’re in the hospital, God is good. When we’re facing an uncertain future, God is good. When we’re struggling financially, God is good. When we lose a loved one, God is good.
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. I’ve walked through hard times with God and without God. And while I can’t speak for you, I would MUCH rather walk through the hills and valleys of life WITH God than without. Having God in your life doesn’t suddenly make your life perfect. Instead, it provides you with Someone to walk the journey with you- to walk ahead of you, encouraging you, to walk behind you, gently nudging you, to walk alongside you, arm in arm, and on those days when you’re pretty certain you can’t even put one foot in front of the other…to carry you.
A Baby, born in a stable- the humblest of surroundings. How can He POSSIBLY save me? Dig a little deeper- you’ll see the enormity of the gift and the sacrifice it represents. Jesus is the perfect gift for a hurting world a world that often seems so undeserving! Why does God offer us the gift if we don’t deserve it? It goes the promise found in John 3:16- “For God SO loved the world…” God’s grace can’t be earned. It is simply…given, as a gift to anyone who will receive it.
Many of us are going to exchange gifts in the next few hours. Perhaps you already have. And I’m no Scrooge- I pray you get a little somethin’ somethin’ that you want, that means a lot to you. Just don’t lose sight of the best gifts you could receive this Christmas- God’s Son, God’s love and God’s grace. Into this cold, dark world Jesus came as a baby. He came to touch our lives. He came to change us forever. He reached down into time and space to save us from our sins. He came to show us a better way to live.
Tonight, God freely and naturally provides us with something- life abundantly. Life is a blessing…a gift. And life can’t be fully explained in human terms. It’s a mystery. As Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We’re called to something so much bigger than ourselves. Life is found at its fullest when we trust in God, when we walk by faith and not by sight…even through the failures and disappointments. Life is measuring ourselves by how Jesus sees us and not by how the world sees us. The mystery of Jesus birth is that He wrapped Himself into our flesh and became like us. And, if we’re honest, that fact is, at some level, simply beyond our ability to understand it- the Creator of the cosmos would CHOOSE to take on the weakness of a newborn baby.
This Christmas Eve, remind yourself that the gift God’s given us is WAY better than the socks from Aunt Tillie, the hand-knitted sweater from Grandma or the Old Spice deodorant and cologne collection from Uncle Delmar. It’s an awesome gift that simply cannot disappoint. We spend a lot of time…and money…every year picking out the perfect Christmas gift for those we love. God spent a lot of time on the very first Christmas gift … His Son, Jesus. And He’s the PERFECT gift. “1 size fits all.” The gift you’ll never return. Never exchange. God offers us a gift tonight. And unlike the socks, the sweater and the Old Spice, this gift can change your life…if you let it. On Christmas Eve 200 years ago, a song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Son of God, love’s pure Light.