Christmas Eve Sermon 2015
Isaiah 9.2-7; Luke 2.1-20
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Every night before we put Gabriel to bed we read him books. And every night for the past few months whenever we finish a book he pleads, “Can you read it again?” I know part of why he is asking is because he is simply trying to stay up later, but for the most part, he genuinely wants to hear the story again.
If I would have the stamina, he would want me to read it to him 20 times in a row. I’m always ready for the next book. I want to hear a different story. Not Gabriel. “Mommy, can you read it again?” he asks every night.
What makes for a good story … good enough that we want to hear it again and again? You have come to worship this Christmas eve, I hope in part, to hear what has been called, “The greatest story ever told.” What is it about the Christmas narrative that makes you want to hear it over and over again or maybe for some of you, the very first time?
It’s a great story for all kinds of reasons. The backstory is that the angel Gabriel shows up in Mary’s life and tells her she will bear the Savior of the world, the Son of God, and she is to name him, Jesus. Jesus’ name literally means, “God saves.”
Her reply to Gabriel is: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (1.38).”
So Mary becomes the theotokis … the God bearer. The Christ child begins as an embryo in Mary’s womb and grows inside her for nine months. She carries him with her wherever she goes and anticipates the day she will give birth and see him for the very first time. Like most mothers, she imagines what her child will become. She has some sense of it from the angel Gabriel, but she couldn’t possibly know what will unfold when God decides to enter into the world in the flesh … through her!
She sings her hope and prophecy for her son in the Magnificat while Jesus is still in her womb: “He has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, sent the rich away empty, remembered his mercy, fulfilled his promise.”
She sings of these things as if they have already happened. Such is her trust and confidence in God’s word.
Tonight, Scripture brings us to the ninth month on the eve in which Mary has been anticipating with her betrothed, Joseph. They have just finished a long journey to Bethlehem and have nowhere to stay. There is no hospital or clean floors. The story doesn’t tell us whether or not there is a midwife or anyone else to help Mary other than her fiancé, who is most likely terrified out of his mind to help birth a child.
So that first Christmas night, God, the creator and sustainer of all that is, came screaming into the world in the infant, Jesus. The heavens are opened and the Good News of God for all people is proclaimed by angels to lowly shepherds in a field.
Heaven and earth intersect, the cosmos shift, and in this moment, God commits God’s self to the redemption of all things.
This is a pretty good story, isn’t it? But what makes it a great story for you? Why does it matter? What makes this tale different than just some good story?
I recently read a story about a professor, named Michael Vinson, and a young woman who is in college at Purdue. Michael asked his students the question: “What are your thoughts on the Christmas story? Is there anything that is meaningful to you about it?”
What this young woman said stuck with him. “She was a bright science student, who looked at her professor and said, ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.’”
He said to her, “Please tell me more.”
“She began to talk about how she had grown up in a very strict religious home and that the words of the Bible always seemed so painful and judgmental. She continued to say that she had decided she was done with “churchy” stuff once she got to school and was out of her parents’ house. Once at Purdue, she was free from the judgment and pain.
Then she looked straight into Michael’s eyes and said, “But then I overheard you talking to a couple of students on campus and it sparked something. You told those two guys, no matter what they did this weekend God would still love them Monday morning.”
Her answer made him think that “the Christmas story is not about judgment and pain; it is as it is said in Titus: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2.11).”
He thought, “maybe for the first time in this young lady’s life, she will go to worship on Christmas Eve … and hear a different message. She will hear of a God who loves her and gives fully for her so she can live (Sundays and Seasons Preaching, Year B 2018, pp. 37-38).”
So often we think we need to get on the straight and arrow before God will love us, or that we somehow need to climb the spiritual ladder up to God. The Christmas story is about God coming right down that ladder into your life, into your heart, wherever you are in whatever state you are.
This is why I think this is a powerful story, a story worth telling and hearing over and over again. God loves the world. Unto you this night a child is born. This is good news of great joy for all people … including you.
You all are part of the story because it is God’s love for you that drew God to walk this earth in Jesus, and ultimately to die and rise for you. We cannot hear this good news enough, and we cannot share it enough either because hearts are longing to hear it.
Salvation, Jesus himself, comes to you, and keeps coming. Jesus thinks you are worth being sought out.
What I think is so incredible about the Christmas story is the hiddenness of it all. God makes room where there is none, choosing the humble setting of a stable in which to enter the world. God comes to earth, not in glory or into a palace, but chooses the womb of a girl who is unwed, poor, and has no status. In the grand scheme of things, Mary is a nobody. Yet, God chooses her. She is not a nobody to God. She is part of the story of God.
We are all meant to be part of the Christmas story, and this shapes who we are and who we are becoming. A woman by the name of Kristin Johnston Largen reflects on this. She writes:
“In the same way that doing the same exercise over and over forms our muscles, or playing an instrument over and over shapes our lips and fingers, hearing the same stories over and over shapes our perception of God, the world, and ourselves …
Year after year … we are shaped by [the Christmas story] and molded by [its] promise of God’s wondrous indwelling with God’s creation. God has come down to us; God has opened God’s heart to us; and God will never leave us. Over and over again, we ask God to tell us the story of God’s love for us; and over and over again, God delights to reply.” (Sundays and Seasons p. 37)
Tonight we come to Hope Chapel to hear the Christmas story. We might find ourselves happy, sad, stressed out, missing family, indifferent, or longing to hear Good News—“regardless of who we are, or what burdens we carry in with us [tonight], we sit down and hear this story, this story of God’s amazing love for us and the whole world (Kristin Johnston Largen).”
Perhaps we can all have a little Gabriel in us tonight: “Can you read it again?”