DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
24 December 2014 – Christmas Eve
Like many of you, I’m a big lover of the classic songs of Christmas: Silent Night and Joy to the World, which we’re going to sing a few minutes later in this service. O Holy Night is a favorite and how very grateful we can be to Karen and Mia both for sharing such a well-done, beautiful rendition of it! . . . These classic songs of Christmas connect us well with God and with the amazing gift of this night. They’re powerful. In fact, it was one hundred years ago on this night during World War I that the Germans and the British who had been fighting each other on the front lines, laid down their weapons and came together to sing with each other: “Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.” . . . These classic songs of Christmas are powerful enough to bring to a halt the nastiest of World Wars. So that the prophet’s dream is fulfilled, which was God’s whole point in Christ: for the swords to be beat into tools for farming fields in abundance as all violence at last is brought to an end.
A few years ago I discovered a newer song of Christmas. And if you don’t know it, I wish you would. Feel free to search for it right now on ITunes. In 2011 it was performed by an artist named Mark Schultz and the words go something like this: “Starlight shines, the night is still. Shepherds watching from a hill. . . . A Perfect child gently waits. A mother bends to kiss God’s face. . . . Angels fill the midnight sky and they sing: ‘Hallelujah, He is Christ, our King.’ Emmanuel, Prince of peace, Love come down for you and me. Heaven’s gift: the holy spark to light the way inside our hearts. Bethlehem, through your small door came the hope we’ve waited for. The world was changed forevermore when love was born. I close my eyes to see the night when love was born” (Mark Schultz, “When Love Was Born”).
I’m not really sure much more needs to be said on this night. Rather, here in this place as others might be rushing out for one last gift or frantically trying to get the kids in bed without peeking at what Santa is going to bring. Tonight we pause for a few minutes to close our eyes and use our imaginations to see if we can see the night when Love was born. . . . We’ve included in our bulletin tonight a few photos I had the great privilege to take this year. Some of you already may have seen the star-gilded site at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where it’s believed Jesus was born. It’s down some steps beneath the massive sanctuary of the Church of the Nativity, in what once was a simple cave where animals were kept safe for the night. As you go down the steps, to the right you see this:
To the left you see this:
– Bethlehem’s manger. . . . Most probably the whole place had some hay in it that night instead of marble, gold, and candles all around. In Bethlehem they tell you that it wasn’t that the inn was too crowded. Rather, as the scripture too alludes, there was no place for them (Luke 2:7). For you see, with how full the inn must have been, for Mary to go inside to give birth would have made the whole lot of them ritually unclean. The cave for the animals out back is offered because they already were unclean. Creation is left to cradle the newborn King. It freely sings its praise to God, while we humans let our stuff get in the way. . . . And so it goes that from the start, Love is going to bump up against law. Grace is in conflict with religious shoulds from the very moment he is born into this world.
Maybe it’s not quite the spot you’ve imagined all your life – it wasn’t when I saw it in person either. And some may wonder if it even took place right there. Nonetheless, it is the spot where millions of pilgrims travel every year just for one brief moment to bend in adoration. It really is incredibly overwhelming . . . to see the night when Love was born.
You know, they might as well have named him that: capital L, o, v, e: Love. For the Holy One willingly taking on the clothes of our flesh and blood is love itself. It’s the message the angels are trying to tell the shepherds: this birth shows definitely the deep, deep favor of God to all. Great news of goodwill! The depths of God’s love for this entire creation that God would become one of us to be our way, our truth, the very path for us to Life here and now and forevermore. . . . Ah: what a marvelous, marvelous night!
For a few moments in the quiet now, I invite you to close your eyes. Imagine in your mind’s eye. See the night when Love was born . . .
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