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The Gift

12/24/2016 Christmas Eve The text is from Luke 2.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Here we are…at another Christmas Eve.  Each of us has come here today with our own set of expectations and dreams, our own set of heartache and joy.  We come as we are, as human beings, focused on what we have left to do today, tonight and tomorrow.  We come anticipating nothing more than the ordinary stuff of Christmas Eve…a choir’s song, special music, the children playing bells, the singing of Silent Night with candlelight.

This is no different from any other Christmas Eve.  Even those in Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth were anticipating nothing more from this night.  They had hopes and dreams.  They had hardships and heartaches.  They had joys and pain.  As they were human beings, just like us.

So, I wonder what I would have heard had I been there that night. It is a question that annually haunts me. Would I have heard the choirs of angels singing or simply the sounds of barnyard animals shifting around? Would I have seen the star in the sky that night or simply two poor and very frightened kids? Would I have understood the hushed silence of the divine presence, or simply the chill of a cold east wind. Would I have understood the message of Emmanuel, God with us, or would the cosmic implications of that evening have passed me by?

I am convinced that had two people been there that night in Bethlehem it is quite possible that they could have heard and seen two entirely different scenes. I believe this because all of life is this way. God never presents himself in revelation in a manner in which we are forced to believe. We are always left with an option, for that is God’s way. Thus, one person can say “It’s a miracle, while another says “It’s coincidence.”

Certainly very few people in Palestine saw and heard and understood what took place that night. The choirs of angels singing were drowned out by the haggling and trading going on in the Jerusalem bazaar. There was a bright star in the sky but the only ones apparently to pay any attention to it were pagan astrologers from the East. If anyone did see Mary and Joseph on that most fateful night, they were too preoccupied with their own problems to offer any assistance. (adapted from an excerpt from sermon titled “What Was Seen at Bethlehem”)

That’s the way it was on the first Christmas.  God chose to gift the world with his son, and his birth went unnoticed, for Jesus was not born in a palace with royal minions watching over him.  He was not born in a hospital with doctors and nurses tending to his care.  He was born in a little back-water town called Bethlehem.  He was born in stable, with nothing more than clean straw for a bed.  He was born to parents who had agreed to be part of God’s plan, but had no real idea what that would mean for them and their lives, let alone what it would mean for this child who was born and given the name Jesus.

Mary and Joseph had no idea for they could not foresee the future.  And the people around them had no idea for they were not looking for God’s messiah that evening.  They were too busy, too stressed, too focused on other things to know what was taking place.  So, although God had sent a great gift to them and they had been prepared by John the Baptist to receive it, their hearts and minds were other places.

And so it is for us this Christmas Eve.  Some are here stealing a couple of precious hours out of a busy schedule to remember what Christmas is all about.  Some are here thinking more about where they are going next – to those friends or that relative, or to the store to pick up one last item.  Some are here tonight hoping the service will get over quickly because they need to get home to wait for Santa.  Some are here because it’s the family thing to do.  Some are here to share talent and gifts to spread to good news.  And yet others are here because Christmas isn’t complete without the tradition of singing Silent Night by candlelight.  But for whatever reason you are here, you have come to the right place.

This may not be a little back-water town called Bethlehem.  It may not be around 3 AD.  We have traveled by car or foot to get here, not by donkey.  There was no decree from Emperor Augustus that forced you to change your plans and make your way to this place.  And yet, like the people long ago, you are here today because God wants to give you something special.  God wants to give you the same gift he gave long ago and the same gift God gives us every Christmas…the gift of his son…the one named Jesus, “for he will save his people.”

God wants you to know the joy of angels, and the awe of shepherds that broke the silence of this night.  God wants you to know exactly what Jesus brings to a world and to a people who are consumed by so many other things.  And God wants you to know that he understands exactly what it is like for in Jesus, God chose to walk in our shoes.

God did not choose to be born to royalty.  God did not choose to be born in Jerusalem among the people looking for a savior.  God chose a humble birth in a little town called Bethlehem.  Jesus came to ordinary people who were struggle with extraordinary circumstances.  He came to people like all of us.

This is the gift of God to each you this night.  May this gift bring you a very Merry Christmas.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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