Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20
Receiving a gift
It’s here! With the lighting of four counting candles and a single white one, it is here. Christmas, Christ’s mass, is here. Christ is born.
With a single lighted candle we proclaim that Jesus is born. Christ has come. All that is needed to turn the deepest darkness into light – hope – is the flicker of one small flame. The candle, one burning light destroys the dark forever. Where there were shadows there is light. Fear not! Said the angels to the shepherds. Fear not – I bring good news of great joy!
Of course, there is much more than one candle here tonight. You are here – welcome! We have beautiful flowers, freshly washed linens, lots of candle light, special music, ourselves, families, friends – Merry Christmas! With thankful and joyful hearts we our love for Jesus and our praise to God in an abundant celebration. We know tonight that the world is different.
We heard from Isaiah tonight and we might not be too connected with that story. Isaiah writes that “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah is referring to a time of great trouble and oppression and at that time, God saved God’s people. That act of saving is “the light.” The great light is God doing for God’s people what we cannot do for ourselves. It was a time of great mystery and joy.
Tonight, too, is a time of great mystery and joy. We might hear the words “in those days” and settle in; here comes a familiar story. We let the words float around us. Maybe we are hearing those words for the first time. Let the words float around you, settle onto you like a comfortable blanket. “We bring tidings of great joy!” There it is again. Joy. Maybe we are hearing “in those days,” those long-ago words and we are thinking that it is late and we are tired and we wish that our little ones would stop wiggling and that we could go to sleep. They will, and you will because tonight God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Tonight God gives us a gift. That gift is Love Itself, and it comes wrapped in poverty, joy, fear, and mystery. Love is that flickering candle. Love is Jesus.
… wrapped in poverty. Jesus does not come to us as a mighty warrior. We might have expected that. Jesus comes to us in a way that each one of us can recognize him, for he comes to us as a baby, in a place no one is turned away. We are all there: shepherds, rulers, dirt, sheep. When there is no room, there is room for one more. There is room for you and for me. In a world in which we strive for the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most, we receive everything in a newborn child.
The angels are singing with joy and we respond in fear. Angels, you see, are messengers, and up to this point, they generally bring us a message from God. That message up until now has required that we do something. In order to complete the angel’s bidding, Zechariah, father of John the baptizer, had to be quiet and name his son John. To do the angel’s bidding, Joseph had to take Mary as his wife and not turn her away. Mary had to bear God’s son. Tonight when the angels appeared to the shepherd’s, what did they have to do?
Not be afraid.
The shepherds were told not to be afraid. After that, they took it upon themselves to go to Bethlehem. Who could resist such wonderful news?
I wonder if it’s like that for us. We, like the shepherds, are given great news. We choose how to respond; I am glad that tonight you made the journey to welcome Jesus, the Christ child. In being here tonight, you – we – have received (and will continue to receive) God’s greatest gift, which is God, showing up for us as a human being, given God to the world in a gentle, unobtrusive, humble way.
How many of us have purchased gifts in the last month or so – week or so – day or so? We wrap them, maybe mail them, put them under a tree. Whatever we have done, we have obtained a gift, wrapped it up, and given it away.
Tonight, however, the world is different, and God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Tonight God gives us a gift in a little town, in a far away place, and in our hearts right here in Henrietta. Tonight’s gift is love and whether we are aware of it or not, it is just what we have been waiting for! While the world has been counting shopping days and shipping days we have been counting Advent days and preparing … for the best gift ever in the whole world. It is here. Welcome, Jesus.
Our journey that has brought us to Jesus will take us many places. For a few hours, though, dwell in the gift of Jesus Christ. Be quiet. Sing OUT LOUD! Smile. Give thanks. What matters tonight is that you are here. Receive this wonderful gift. As there is always room for us at that manger, you are making room for Jesus in your heart.
Brother James Koester, SSJE, says it this way:
It doesn’t matter that our lives, or our families or world are not perfect. What matters is that we make a space, no matter how small, for God in our hearts. When we do that, God will do the rest, and Christ will once more be born in the Bethlehem of our lives and the mangers of our hearts.
Blessed, holy, joyful, merry Christmas.