Christmas Eve

Luke 2: 1-20                  A Christmas Eve Sermon               Rev. Dr. Stephen R. Melton

Welcome to our Christmas Eve worship. One of the wonderful things we can predict at Christmas is better attendance. Like Easter, we know there will be more people here than normal. It warms our hearts to see you here. Of course, we’d love to see you again next week, but even if we don’t, we are so pleased to share this time together.

Christmas is a very predictable holiday. I think that brings us comfort. We can predict what carols we will sing. Isaiah predicts a Messiah will be born. Luke will tell us Isaiah was right.

Other things are predictable too.

If you are a man, you’re going to get a tie. If you’re a kid someone’s going to give you socks. If you are a mom, someone’s going to give you a nice item for your kitchen. They will say it’s for you, but really, they’re giving it to you so you can make them waffles or a milk shake. We can be sure our two-year old will be more interested in the wrapping paper than in the present we bought her.

You can expect to sing Joy to the World sometime in worship and Silent Night somewhere at the end. We can predict “It’s Wonderful Life,” will be on TV. George Bailey will learn his life has a purpose after all. The ghosts of Christmas will finally teach Scrooge to share, and, once again, Tiny Tim will be saved.

We can predict our electric bill will be higher. NASA has satellites circling the earth. At night they can see the lights of cities. You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that December is the brightest month of the year. The lights from Christmas can be seen from 130 miles up in space.

And, if you are vigilant, you might just catch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” And when Charlie Brown laments, “Can’t anyone tell me what Christmas is all-about?” Linus will walk out on stage. Then, in perfect King James English, he will recite the Christmas story:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

…Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Life is filled with unpredictable things. But, at Christmas, we know what’s going to happen. This is comforting.

Of course, it is a fantastic story. It’s so fantastic that we are not sure what to make of it. A Emperor calls for a census of the whole world, there are angels talking to people left and right, a young girl is expecting a miraculous child, shepherds leaving their flock to find a child in a stable, and Wise Men travel led only by a star. It’s a story promising such good news of great joy for all people, that it sounds more like a Disney fairy tale than reality.

It opens with line, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar August that all the world shall be enrolled…” But, the story isn’t about a king or about his daughter who ate a poisonous apple and she is waiting for Prince Charming to kiss her and wake her up.

No. We soon learn the story is not about the king at all. In fact, if it weren’t for Luke, we wouldn’t even know his name. Maybe some archeologist could tell you the name, Caesar Augustus found carved on some forgotten tomb.

But, no, the story isn’t about Caesar. He is like a distant planet orbiting around the main character. The only reason Luke mentions him is so we know when it all happened. He wants us to remember the date, just like we remember other dates. Columbus sailed the ocean blue – when?in 1492. The Founders of our country signed the Declaration of Independence in what year? 1776. When was Jesus born? Christmas Day some 2,019 years ago.

It may read a little like a fairy tale, but Luke wants us to know this is no fanciful legend. This is the story of a real man, born a real place and at a very real time. In fact, there’s more proof Jesus was real than there is for Socrates.

The story starts out so common as can be. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to have a baby. Not the least bit incredible. A pregnant teenager, and her loyal fiancé, have no place to go when it comes time for the baby to be born. The best they can do is find a barn for shelter. Hardly front-page news. It’s a story about two people, braver than most and probably mature beyond their years, but it’s not exactly heroic.

The story is very rooted in reality.

Having a child is a wonderful thing. I was there at the birth of all three daughters. I would love to say I heard angels bringing good news of great joy, but that isn’t what happened. What I heard was machines beeping and a woman crying. There was sweat and blood and pain. And, when the child is born, it’s a mess. A beautiful mess, but a mess, nonetheless.

Luke wants us to remember this was a real birth, with real pain and it didn’t take place at some five-star hospital. It took place in a barn and with all the animal smells you might imagine.

And, yet, Luke wants us to know, this no common birth. The further into the story we travel, the more we see it’s leading to God.

Everywhere angels keep appearing. They are hovering around like dandelion seeds in the breeze. Before it’s over, we realize this isn’t just any birth, and this isn’t just any child.

A Sunday School teacher was having her class draw pictures to give their parents as Christmas presents. She came upon one little boy. He’s bent over his desk, with his tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration. His teacher walks over and says, “Tell me, James, what are you drawing for your parents this Christmas?” Without looking up the little boy says, “I am drawing a picture of God.” The teacher says, “But James, no one know what God look like.” With great confidence the boy says, “They will now!”

If we want to know what God looks like, look no further. If we are paying any attention at all, we can see and hear God in this story of the Child in Bethlehem.

Who knows what we’d seen if we had been there? Maybe we would’ve just seen a woman crying out as she was giving birth. A man holding her hand. A barn full of curious animals. And a star – brighter than normal -shooting across the sky. But, it’s also possible, we would have seen what the shepherds saw. Whatever is was, they couldn’t help but run and tell everyone about what happened.

We know they did this because we are here tonight to listen again to their enduring witness.

What happened was no fairy tale, but it was so beautiful and so divine, there was no other way for Luke to tell us the story: Written in prose and intermingled with poetry. That first Christmas, when the “little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head”, and “Christ the Savior was born in Bethlehem,” nothing in the world has been the same ever since.

This We Can Believe: everything changed that night Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Art, music, literature, human culture, political institutions all have been altered because of that Child.

Even if all we have is a modicum of curiosity, This We Can Believe: For 20 centuries countless people in countless ways, who have found their lives captivated by his life. Through him, people have experienced God.

All of this is true whether we believe it or not. We may have bad days in which we doubt the whole thing: the world-wide census. The Virgin birth or the wise men using a star like we use GPS.

Our final consolation this evening is just like their doubt didn’t stop him from coming the first, time, it sure isn’t going to slow him the second. Nothing is going to stop the little Lord Jesus from bringing about a change in the world.

But - and hear this – for this is the last word to hold onto tonight - and hold onto it like you would a newborn in your arms:

But - and hear this – for this is the last word to hold onto tonight - and hold onto it like you would a newborn in your arms:

For blessed is he or she, who welcomes the Child into their lives.

Blessed is the one who puts aside their cynical mind and quiets their skeptical indifference, for they will be the first ones to sense the birth of goodness; they will hear the first cries of peace, they will brush their cheeks up against the tender face of God. They will be the first to know “this Child sent from heaven” was actually meant for them, for you, for me, for us. If we desire to let him in, our lives may be changed by that Child at any moment and for all time. This We Can Believe.


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