Every weekend, we celebrate the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is a special joy to come together on Christmas Eve to celebrate Christ’s birth. And it is really wonderful to have our children help to lead the service! What a great way to acknowledge the Christ child!
Over the last several weeks, here at Saint David’s we have been preparing for this night. I don’t mean buying gifts and sending cards and gathering with people we love, although many of us have been doing those things. I don’t even mean decorating the Church, and rehearsing with the children, and doing the million other things that had to be done for this service, though I am certainly grateful to the MANY people who worked hard to get us ready.
No, the preparation I mean now is something that happens inside each of us, as we prepare to hear again the good news that God has taken flesh and dwells among us, as we prepare to open our hearts in a new way to Jesus Christ who is always coming into our lives, as we prepare ourselves for another year of doing God’s work in the world.
One tool that some of us have used to get ourselves ready has been a devotional based on a Lutheran hymn called “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” I do not think I have ever sung this hymn, but I love the words. I particularly love one of the verses, which our devotional stressed. These words perfectly capture the great mystery we celebrate this evening.
“These are the signs that you shall mark:/ The swaddling clothes and manger dark./ There you will find the infant laid…”
Pause for a second. Wait for it…
“These are the signs that you shall mark:/ The swaddling clothes and manger dark./ There you will find the infant laid/ By whom the heav’ns and earth were made.”
As the hymn says, the star of the show this evening is an infant lying swaddled in a manger.
And, of course, every new baby is a little miracle. Every new baby is a gift from God. Every new baby is good news of great joy for his or her family. Every new baby is well worthy of celebration.
But as the hymn also says, the baby we celebrate tonight is special because this baby is God become flesh. This baby is the Word of God who, in the very beginning, was with God and was God. This baby is the one through whom all things came into being, and without whom not one thing came into being. This baby is the light of the whole world, the very glory of God, who gives us the power to become ourselves the beloved children of God. That is an impressive baby!
That Christ participated in the creation of the heavens and the earth is already amazing enough. That the Creator of the heavens and the earth is willing to become flesh and live among us is simply astonishing. But most astonishing of all, the Creator of the heavens and the earth comes into our midst as a helpless infant.
A few verses later, the hymn puts it this way: “Ah, Lord, who hast created all,/ How weak art Thou, how poor and small.”
The God of heaven and earth came to us, on that first Christmas, not with power and magnificence and glory, but in weakness and poverty and vulnerability.
On that first Christmas, an angelic choir sang hymns of praise, and shepherds came to adore the Christ child, and at some point, wise men showed up with gifts fit for a king. That is probably as much action as any family with a newborn would want!
We might expect more. After all, this is God incarnate, the second person of the divine Trinity, the one through whom all things were made.
And the fact is, the world mostly did not notice. On that first Christmas, Christ “was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”
Shocking though that failure may seem, it is actually pretty easy to understand why people failed to recognize God come in their midst.
Mostly we are clear on power and glory.
And mostly we are clear on weakness and vulnerability.
But what is hard for most of us is precisely what we celebrate this evening: power and weakness together; God in the form of a new-born baby; the creator of heaven and earth in diapers.
And that paradox, that combination of power and weakness, God as baby, is the good news of Christmas.
We come together tonight to acknowledge and to celebrate the astonishing fact that God really did become human, that God really did take on all the weaknesses and all the vulnerabilities of our life, that God loves us so much that God was willing to live among us without all the trappings of divine power and glory.
That is good news!
And the good news continues. As our Bishop says, the Jesus Movement rolls on. God continues to come into our world and into our lives all the time.
And often we do not know that God is with us because God comes to us with that same loving humility that God displayed on the first Christmas. God comes as a gentle breath, a humble word, a kind gesture. God comes to us as a stranger in need, or a new-born child, or an irritating member of our families. In one unexpected form after another, God comes to us, and God keeps coming to us.
And that is why Christmas is both miracle and invitation.
Christmas is a miracle because God came to us in such a new and surprising way, a way that people did not expect and could never have predicted and, sadly, mostly missed.
Christmas is an invitation because God keeps coming. Christmas is an invitation to open our eyes and our minds and our hearts to God’s continuing presence, to the gift of God’s grace and love that we receive every day, to Christ in our midst.
One of the last verses of the hymn on which our devotional was based is a perfect response to the Christmas invitation to open ourselves up to God in our midst. It is the perfect Christmas prayer.
“Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,/ Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,/ Within my heart, that it may be/ A quiet chamber kept for Thee.”
That is my prayer for us, on this Christmas Eve, as we celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth: that Christ will find a place in our hearts this evening, this year.
And I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, God incarnate and come among us as a little child. Amen.