Christmas Eve 2017
“In those days a decree went out…” You’re all probably so familiar with the reading of the Christmas story that you could say it aloud with me, more or less. It’s one of the great stories in our religion and culture and imagination. Like a story that begins with “Once upon a time,” we know where it’s going: the pregnant woman, the protective man, the donkey; inns in Bethlehem full, but a stable provided; a baby born and laid in the animals’ feeding trough. Then the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, the star.
It’s a very particular story of one special baby born at a specific time and place. There’s magic and mystery in it. It lies deep in our hearts, and draws more people to church on this night than at any other time. There’s a magnetism to the story.
But it’s not just a “Once upon a time” story about a long ago and rather mythical event. It’s also a true story about God and us, that’s unfolding now and always, in our ordinary and extraordinary lives. It’s once upon a time and always.
What the Christmas story says about the human actors – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, King Herod, the wise men – it also says about us:
- We are Mary, when we open to God and allow something miraculous to be born in us
- We are Joseph, when we overcome fear and prejudice and walk the path of loyalty, solidarity
- We are the shepherds, when we’re out in the cold and dark, metaphorically speaking, and all of a sudden a radiant joy breaks in and astonishes us
We are the wise men, when we set off in pursuit of something we hardly even know, but sense its pull.
The Christmas story is the human story. That’s why it resonates so deeply, and all of us are here tonight. We can all identify with it at some level.
It’s also a timeless story about the nature of God:
- God didn’t just start loving the world when Jesus was born: God is always loving us and coming to us
- The Holy Spirit didn’t begin Her work by enabling Mary to conceive: She is always creating and enabling beyond our wildest imagining
- The Creator is always shining light into our darkness
- God is always asking for our Yes, our “Let it be”
- Jesus is always coming right into the messy, unprepared, mixed up places that we’re in (like that messy, unprepared stable) and chooses to be humbly there with us.
So this once and always story, this story that takes place two thousand years ago and also now, it continues to draw us in today.
It might ask us to see Mary and Joseph in the millions of refugee families today who are desperately looking for safety and hope. It might ask us to be bearers of glad tidings and great joy to people who are living in poverty or on the margins, like those shepherds. It might call us to search for that pinprick of light in the night sky, when we’ve lost our way.
The Christmas story is our story, and God’s story. It’s once upon a time and always.
What moves you about it? What brings you here?
How might God’s Spirit be whispering in the depths of your heart, asking something of you?
Listen. Look. Be courageous. Be awed.
And may this story change you and draw you closer to God’s heart.