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.
I have recently heard of a small village just under 6,000 people, named, Reutte. It is located in the western part of Austria, nestled in the European Alps. Reutte is a predominantly Catholic village, which continues many longstanding, rich traditions on the eve and day of Christmas.
In Reutte, on Christmas Eve families begin celebrating Christmas by sharing a simple, evening meal just as a family. At 11:30pm each family makes their way from their homes to the large church building in the center of town, where they gather together to begin the vigil of Christmas. The church is filled with people and song…the hymns and carols of sung Christmas chorus.
The worship liturgy itself begins at the stroke of midnight; the whole liturgy culminates with the reading of the “Euongaleon”, meaning “The Good News”…they read the story from Luke of the birth of Jesus like we just did.
More songs are sung together, and then those gathered exit the church building for fellowship out of doors, on the front steps of the village church.
Then together, young and old, go hand-in-hand…travel by foot a short distance through the streets to the place of burial. The people enter into the village cemetery, which is itself aglow.
The cemetery is illuminated with hundreds of candles, each marking an individual grave; candles lit there to remember the saints. The people walk there to bring Christmas greetings to those who have gone before them; those buried; the ones who no longer sit beside them in the pew at the festive, Christmas worship.
A bell then tolls. It is the “Christmas bell”. The bell’s toll signals to the townspeople that it is time to return to their homes.
The village-wide gathering ends as they go their respective living rooms, where the families sing more Christmas songs, and where the “Euongaleon”, the good news of Christ Jesus’ birth, is read for a second time, this time as families.
Finally, (at least for the eager, young children) the Christmas gifts are shared and opened, still in the dark of night; thus satisfying the anticipation in the very early hours of Christmas Day.
Following the opening of gifts, sleep comes. Yet, it is only a short night’s rests before waking to the Christmas dawn; itself a day filled with continuous breakfast, culminating with a dinner feast in the evening of Christmas Day.
I really love how this village celebrates Christmas. I particularly love it for 2 reasons:
- The good news of great joy for all the people is read again and again.
- The people go to a cemetery to be with and remember those who have died.
Sometimes it can seem a little out of place to talk about going to a cemetery on Christmas, but I think it’s a powerful witness to what the good news (the Euongaleon) of the Christmas story is really about. It’s not just about a sweet story about some angels and shepherd and a young couple having a baby.
The Christmas story is about hope for people who know and experience loss, for people who know what it’s like to sit in darkness, people who sit alone at night and wonder whether or not God is real or even cares.
It’s for the people who sit at graves wondering what is beyond the great chasm of death, wondering whether or not they will ever see their loved one again.
The Christmas story is about God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, being born into a world that is both beautiful and broken. Born into the world in order that you and I can know hope, can know joy, can really come to know that God in fact loves you and me, redeems you and me, and certainly cares about shining a light in our darkest places of suffering and loss.
It’s Christmas and someone who has recently died is on my mind and heart all the time. Our beloved community member, Bill, died this past Saturday. I want to go to the cemetery and sit with Bill. And I want to hear the good news of the Christmas story read again and again.
When I hear it I know that Christ was born for Bill. When I hear it, I know that Christ was born for each one of you.
An angel proclaims the good news in the dark of night to the shepherds. “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
These shepherds were nobodys really. Working the night shift, these un-wealthy shepherds hear the news that God has been born into their world and this baby named Jesus is for them, and he is for all people.
The angel says: “To you is born this day,” people of Heart River.
Hey all of you who feel dead and broken and alone, for you, Jesus is born.
Hey all of you who love and miss Bill, for you, Jesus is born.
Hey all of you who are locked up, for you, Jesus is born.
Christmas is about the good news of God for all the world. We need to hear the story again and again and again. We need the light that shines in the darkness of our lives, promising us hope and the very presence of God.
Christmas is not about perfection, who you are with, or even where you are. It is about God always coming to us no matter where we are, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, no matter who we have lost and how we are feeling on this night. It is about the Word of God made flesh, born into the world we live in for you and for me.
Jesus was and is born so God would become touchable, present, and real…not just 2000 years ago, but everyday and always. It was so that we would know that God cares more about loving us and being present with us then about the ways we mess up in life.
It was so that when loved ones die we would know that they are with God and that we will see them again in the resurrection of the dead. Christmas is about God saying to us: You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are loved.
Emmanuel means, “God is with us,” and that is what the Christmas story is all about whether we are in Reutte or here at YCC.
And God being with us is very good news.