Christmas Eve 2018

The Birth of Jesus

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘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 Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

200 years ago, on this very night, the most popular Christmas hymn of all time, even more popular than Mariah Carey's All I want for Christmas Is You, was sung for the first time. A small community choir, two soloists, and a guitar player shared the music. It became a global phenomenon, translated into nearly every language, and sung at nearly every Christmas service. I grew up singing that hymn every year with my family on Christmas Eve. One year my home church made the decision to sing some less than traditional hymns on Christmas Eve. The outcry was so severe that Silent Night was sung the next year, and probably every year since!

My favorite stanzas of the hymn are the 3rd and 4th, with its references to light. In Christ, light has come to the world. In Christ, light shines in the darkness. Every year on Christmas Eve I read the first few verses of the Gospel of John which deal with the light of Jesus coming into the world. Hear it now, along with a similar text from Isaiah 60.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
   and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 
For darkness shall cover the earth,
   and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
   and his glory will appear over you. 
Nations shall come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, 9-10)

The teaching on light speaks to one of the real spiritual crises happening in our world today: loneliness. I listened to a TED talk today that said loneliness is a health crisis; it's the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Being lonely is not the same as being alone. Being alone can be very healthy. Believe me, as an introvert, I cherish being alone. Not today, but nearly every Monday I am away from the church. The staff know only to reach out in an emergency. Usually I spend those days alone, going to the cinema, watching a movie at home with the dog.. Being alone is good.

Loneliness is different. The number of people expressing loneliness in our society has doubled in the last two decades. Nearly half of Americans express feeling lonely. I heard this video of the actor Russell Brand discussing loneliness earlier this month and I wanted to share it with you:

— lancellot wendel (@lancellotwendel) December 5, 2018">

Even if we ourselves are not feeling lonely, the odds overwhelming tells us we know someone who is. The simplest thing: sending a text, a Facebook post on someone's wall, a card in the mail, can help someone feel connected again.

For me, this is the ultimate meaning of Christmas. Christ is born into our world and brings community. We are part of a family. This is not an advertisement for the church, but to invite Christ into our lives. That the light may be born in us again tonight.

I read the story of a missionary serving in Argentina. He remembered a live nativity in the village where he served. The entire community gathered together: Protestants, Catholics, evangelicals, non-believers. The children had a role. Fercundo was the innkeeper. He actually lived on the property where the nativity took place. He had two lines: "There is no room for you," and after Mary responded, "You can stay in the barn." As the Holy Family approached, he mentally rehearsed his lines. When they came to him, he was silent. After a couple of uncomfortable seconds the crowd started murmuring, some laughing. Finally Fercundo exclaimed, "You can stay in my room!!!" Everyone burst into joyous laughter.

That's the message of Christmas. As we sing Silent Night, invite the light of Christ to stay with you. Invite the light of Christ to shine on your loneliness-- or on those in your life who are alone. May all of us leave room in our hearts for the Christ child, born on this silent night so long ago, born again in us tonight. Merry Christmas!