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Christmas Eve 2021                                    
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Lakeland, FL

Luke 2:1-20
So, here we are. Here we have come. 

Here we have come with our hopes and dreams of a Christmas to remember. 

There's something about Christmas that brings out the Martha Stewart in us all. I know that I have wanted to have the perfect tree, set the perfect table, rush to find the perfect gift, get the perfect picture of my perfect granddaughter.... And maybe I still do sometimes.  

But if the past 2 years of covid have taught us anything it's that maybe Christmas isn't about all that. Maybe it's about how even when the house looks like a barn and there's no room at the inn and no place to rest God comes to us. And when we’re scared to go out and we're losing our jobs, or we get a bad report from the doctor, or we don’t know how we’ll make ends meet, even then God shows up. God comes to us out of pure love, so that we don’t have to live perfect lives in perfect homes, as if we could. God comes to us because we are imperfect and beloved. 

And because of this pure love of God for each of us, here we have come to hear the story again of this amazing love. Yes, here we have come. We have come with our unmet expectations, our unfinished to-do lists, our aches and pains,  and our ordinariness, our very ordinary ordinariness. We come. On this night of all nights. On this Holy Night. We have come to this Holy Place to hear Holy Words. Gospel Words. Good News.

And so, to each of you, in the name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I bid you grace and peace from Jesus who is with us now and forever.  Amen.

Of course this night is so very different from that we experienced a year ago, isn’t it? And, truth be told, we may have wondered if our gathering with family and friends, around a dinner table, opening gifts at the Christmas Tree, lighting candles here at church would even happen this year too. Yet here we are. We have come. We have come to hear the story once gain for the 80th time or perhaps tonight even for the first time – the story of incomprehensible Love squeezed into the body of a newborn, a newborn who cried at this strange new world in which it now was living, a newborn who felt the warmth of his mother’s embrace and heard her voice in a different way than he had in the preceding months, a newborn who did all the things that newborns do. This newborn, the very embodiment of the Love of God for God’s people and creation.

It is so very tender, indeed, isn’t it. And we may carry that sweetness with us as we leave this place in a while. But, my beloved in the Lord, we cannot leave this place unchanged or unaffected by this miracle of Love among us.

A colleague of mine, Christine Sine, wrote this a few days ago: “Advent is not about waiting for a baby. It is waiting for a whole new reality which takes hold of us by first taking our hearts and souls into its path of justice and grace.” The birth of Jesus. The birth of the Son of God. The coming of divine Love. And, in all due respect to Robert Frost and my dear sweet cat Sadie, this love does not come like fog on little cat’s feet sitting and looking over harbor and city
on silent haunches and then moving on. 

This Love bursts forth among the poor, the oppressed, those who simply didn’t count. This Love is born to a virgin girl whose fiancé hardly knew what to do. This Love lived and grew in a poor village and was ultimately nailed to a cross because those who knew him hardly knew what to make of him. This Love, this child, is so significant that we mark all of time throughout history by his birth.

OK, so what? So we’ll sing a carol, light a candle, and relish these sweet moments. But that dare not be all. I was reminded of a time over a hundred years ago when Christmas changed things. It was the Christmas Truce of 1914. When soldiers who were enemies laid down their weapons. When the first courageous few took wary steps into No Man’s Land and were greeted not with bullets but a soccer ball instead. When rare and sparse treats of chocolate and other delights were shared – across enemy lines. When carols familiar to all were sung, though perhaps in different languages. When life was sought rather than death. All of this because of the incomprehensible Love of God made manifest in Jesus, the baby. This was a whole new reality for soldiers in World War I. Unfortunately, it didn’t last longer than the night. And weapons were again taken up, fighting resumed, as did injury and death.

But don’t you wonder? I know I do. If there could be comradery on Christmas Eve in the trenches of World War I, even for just a few hours – could it possibly be that it could come again? If, in this holy place tonight, we come together from different places, different viewpoints, different perspectives – if we too put down our weapons – not only the firearms but also the weapons of words and anger and histrionics – if we dare to beat these weapons into plowshares, might we be part of bringing a whole new reality of love and justice and grace into our life together these days? And, don’t you agree that we need it so.

There was a recurring phrase in our Gospel reading tonight that struck me again – as it has almost every year – they told “what the Lord had made known to them.”

What is it that the Lord is making known to you tonight? Is it the reminder that God in Christ loves you dearly? Is it a growing awareness of the hidden delights that we uncover only when we release our picture perfect Christmas? Is it the gentle breath of a birth in a stable? What is being born in you this night?

Whatever that is, I pray that it is saturated – even super-saturated --  with the vastness of God’s love and grace and mercy. Born in this wee child, the very Son of God. Incomprehensible Love.

Thanks be to God.