Christmas Eve is such a holy night because that first Christmas changed everything.
In the beginning, all the way back, God created the heavens and the earth, and they were very good, because they reflected the glory of God.
And in the beginning, God created human beings in God’s own image and likeness. And we, too, were very good because we were created for perfect intimacy with God.
But sin intervened. Sin obscured the glory of God in creation. Sin obscured the image and likeness of God in us. Sin made it hard to see God in creation, or in human beings.
Without God’s help, we would have been out of luck. Sin would have been too much.
But God did help. On that first Christmas, God came into the world to help. The very Word of God, the second person of the eternal Trinity, the one through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together, that One came into the world to help.
By entering into creation in a new way, God made creation new. By entering into creation, God showed us what creation can be: a luminous sign of God’s presence. As the Gospel of John puts it, the light of the world shined in our darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. From that first Christmas on, all of creation was a little brighter than it had been before. That is what we celebrate tonight.
But, as we just heard, God did not enter into creation in power and great glory.
Instead God was born as one of us. God was born as a helpless baby to a poor middle-eastern couple far from their home. God was wrapped in bands of cloth. God was laid in a manger. God was welcomed by lowly shepherds.
The facts of God’s birth were shocking then. And, when we pause to think about it, the facts of God’s birth continue to shock still, two thousand years later.
But God’s humble birth is part of the good news of great joy that we celebrate tonight. Because, in that great humility, God showed us what human nature can be. God showed us what the true image and likeness of God looks like. God showed us what the full stature of Christ looks like. God showed us what it looks like for a human being to live fully into God’s call.
And even though sin continues to obscure the glory of God in creation and in us, ever since that first Christmas, sin can never again fully obscure God’s glory. Ever since that first Christmas, sparks of God’s glory shine forth in creation and even in us, humble and lowly though we be.
So tonight we come together to give thanks and praise to God for what God did for us on that first Christmas, for restoring some of the goodness in creation and in us, for helping us to see God’s hand at work in the world about us and in us.
But Christmas Eve is not just a time for looking backwards, to what God did so long ago. Christmas Eve is also, maybe even more importantly, a time to look around us, at our world today, and to look forward, to the world that God is bringing into being even now.
Two thousand years ago, Christ came into the world as Emmanuel, God with us.
And, today, Christ continues to come into the world as Emmanuel, God with us.
If someone ever says to you, “I wish every day could be like Christmas,” tell them that it can. Whenever we gather in his name, Christ becomes especially present. Whenever we share Eucharist, Christ becomes especially present. Christmas is happening here, as Christ comes into our world once again, God with us right now. We get a little Christmas every single Sunday. Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving, that keeps on happening.
And what may be hardest for us to see, what may be hardest for us to really wrap our minds around, is the Christmas miracle that happens inside each of us in an ongoing way.
God became incarnate on that first Christmas. And God’s incarnation continues in us. We have the Spirit of Christ. We are a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are the body of Christ in the world. Christmas happens in us all the time.
Seven hundred years ago, Saint Francis made this point with characteristic vigor. Saint Francis was very clear that the first Christmas was special. Saint Francis venerated the Blessed Virgin Mary for giving birth to the Christ child.
But Saint Francis also believed that we are all called to be “mothers of Christ.” That is his phrase. Francis said, “we are [Christ’s] mothers when we carry Him in our heart and body through a divine love and a pure and sincere conscience and give birth to Him through a holy activity which must shine as an example before others.”
I am going to read that line again. “We are [Christ’s] mothers when we carry Him in our heart and body through a divine love and a pure and sincere conscience and give birth to Him through a holy activity which must shine as an example before others.”
It is a beautiful statement of what Christmas means for us, today, right here, right now.
Christ dwells within us. It is as if we are pregnant with Christ.
And when we do God’s will, when we live as God calls us to live, we make Christ visible in the world. That is what Francis means by us birthing Christ.
On that first Christmas Eve, Christ entered the world as a seed of new life. By becoming incarnate, Christ did a new thing, Christ made possible a quality of life that had not been possible before, Christ made God present in creation in a new way.
And we are part of that ongoing process. At our baptisms, Christ entered each of us as a seed of new life in us for our world.
Our task is to cultivate that seed. Our task is to open ourselves up so fully to the presence of Christ in us, to allow ourselves to be so fully transformed by Christ in us, that we become signs of God’s grace and love to everyone around us, that we make Christ visible, that we extend God’s incarnation. That is giving birth to Christ in our day. That is participating in the Christmas miracle as it continues to happen.
And so, on this most holy night, we thank God for becoming incarnate two thousand years ago. We thank God for making creation new, and for redeeming and restoring human nature.
And we thank God for continuing the work of incarnation in us and in our lives. My prayer is that we can continue to give birth to Christ in our day.
In the name of our incarnate Lord. Amen.