What are you doing here? What are we all doing here? We’ve come to celebrate Christmas, of course. Some of us have waited all year for this occasion, or at least this season. Some of you are here because, well, it’s just what lots of people do on Christmas Eve, along with the feasting and the gifts and the Christmas tree. Others of you may have been dragged along by a friend or family member, and you are here to humor them. Still others of you may have come tonight with a heavy burden – an illness or a personal problem in which you are seeking a measure of peace, guidance, perhaps a lifeline. Some of you may be relieved to tune out the noise and strife of political and social discord – change the channel, think about something else. And for some, what we celebrate tonight is the very foundation of their being. All of these are good and important reasons to be here. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever burden or blessing you have brought with you, you are welcome here. God has invited you – in one way or another – and you came. Thank you.
At the heart of what we do tonight is to proclaim the news, the good news, the very best news, that God loves us – full stop; no ifs, ands, or buts. There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more than he already does when we are at our very worst. And when you truly love someone, you want the very best for them, and you do whatever you can to make that happen – gladly, generously, sacrificially. That is what God did for each one of us, for all humanity, and all Creation in the birth of Jesus.
After millenia of patriarchs and prophets, judges, priests, and kings, and the whole long history of humanity – broken, disillusioned, alienated – God came into human life, came to share our humanity; not as a reflection of humanity, or a hologram, or an avatar, but as a fully flesh-and-blood baby, vulnerable, dependent, needing the care of parents; powerless, poor, unknown, having no status or influence. Imagine – the Creator and Sustainer of the universe willingly becoming small and weak. And why would God do that? So that we would know there is no aspect of human life and experience that is outside of God, unknown to him. In Jesus, the human and the divine meet, heaven and earth; as the beloved Christmas hymn says: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” A name often ascribed to Jesus from the Hebrew Scriptures is Emmanuel – “God with us.” God with us – we have not been abandoned, we are not bereft, God has not left us to fend for ourselves, but is here with us, among us, at the center of our heart and being, if we will let him.
And if God comes to us in Jesus, the representative of all humanity, the Everyman or Everywoman, the Second Adam, as the medieval writers said, then there is no aspect of human existence that cannot be healed, redeemed, saved, made whole, participate in shalom, salaam – God’s life of peace and goodness. That includes you – and whatever you are going through, whatever pain or difficulty or joy you find yourself in.
No wonder the shepherds in the field were awe-struck when they heard the angels’ announcement. This was incredibly, exceedingly good news. At long last the Messiah, the Anointed, the Wisdom, the Lord, the Root of hope, the Key of life, the Morning Star, the King, the One who was to bring God’s promises and purposes to fulfillment had come.
And he hadn’t come to a palace, or to the Temple, or to the seat of imperial power. Instead, God’s Messiah had come to his people, to ordinary folk who were living their lives as best they could, who were struggling to get by, who had hung on to God’s promises for centuries: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined and The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth…See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. They shall be called, "The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord"; and you shall be called, "Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken."
A God who comes among us, a God who is in our corner, a God who keeps his promises – though not always in the ways we expect or look for, a God who is willing to get down in the muck and mire, the uncertainty and grief, the pain and deceit of human life is absolutely a God worth trusting and celebrating and loving in return. This is the good news we announce and embrace at Christmas, and are embraced by.
So, leave your fear, worry, pain, anger, grief, weariness, lostness, despair, disillusion, and hear God who says: Come; come to the stable – like the shepherds who ran all the way to town to see the truth after hearing the angels’ message. Come; come to the life that God offers, full of faith and hope and new beginnings for us and for all humanity, as we walk in Jesus’ way. Come; come to the love of God in Christ and be embraced by the heart of God, a power over which no earthly force can prevail. Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, will meet us there and we will be blessed, indeed, tonight, tomorrow and in the days to come.
Let us pray.
O Lord Jesus Christ, as you humbled yourself to be born among us and laid in a manger, bring us with the shepherds and wise men to kneel in awe and joyful thanksgiving and to follow the steps of your blessed life; that rejoicing now in your peace, we may come at the last to eternal glory in your presence, where the angels ever sing your praises. Amen. ~ St. Augustine’s Prayer Book
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
December 24, 2017