RSS

Tag Archives: Christmas Eve

Christmas, Even Now

Well, once again at long last, it’s Christmas Eve! 

I have to say, friends, that of all the times we come together as God’s people throughout the year; this is probably the night I look forward to most. In fact, I figured it out and this makes 37 years – 9 of them right here at East Church – that I’ve had the great joy and privilege of leading Christmas Eve worship as a pastor; and I’ve got to tell you, all of those years and all of those times shared in worship are filled with memories and meaning that fill up my heart more than I can possibly express.

I’ve actually been remembering something tonight that was said to me at another church many Christmas Eves ago by someone who came through the vestibule to greet me after worship.  She shook my hand quite vigorously, she gave me this great big hug (as we are fond of saying up in Maine, she “muckled right on to me!”) and then, with tears in her eyes, she said, “Oh, thank you, thank you so much for this service!  I just love coming to your church on Christmas Eve, because it’s the same old thing every year!”  

Ummm… you’re welcome?

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about that as of late, because I realize that if there’s one thing we can say about anything having to do with Christmas Eve 2020, it’s most assuredly that this year it’s not the “same old thing!”  In fact, I think we can safely say that this year’s celebration of Christmas is to say the very least, unprecedented and nothing we could have possibly imagined a year ago.  And I’ll confess, it still seems inconceivable that we aren’t able to be together as a church family in this sanctuary on this holy night… and yet, out of an abundance of concern for the safety and well-being of everyone around us (to say nothing of our love for one another), it is both appropriate and good, friends, that this year we aren’t gathering for in-person worship.

So yes, this year is different… and yet, I dare say that there’s so much that’s still the same.  After all, we’re still worshiping together as God’s people… we’re just doing so from different places and in a multitude of different ways.  We’re all still singing all those songs and carols … or at least, I trust that we’re all singing from wherever we are!  We’ve still been reading that old and wonderfully familiar story of our Savior’s birth… perhaps this year we’ve even heard it in a way that’s fresh and new!   And in a few minutes, we’ll be lighting candles that will remind us that the light of Christ has come into our darkened world, singing “Silent Night” as we do.

So considering all that, in many ways I still have to agree with that woman who spoke to me with such joy and thanksgiving all those years ago: yes, in every way that matters, it is the “same old thing” again this Christmas, even now… and thank the Lord for it!

Actually, you know what; I also have to tell you that one of my favorite moments every Christmas Eve is one that few people in the church ever get to see: it’s after the last carol has been sung, after the organ has been switched off, the candles extinguished, and all of you have gone home, perchance to get a few hours of slumber before the kids are up and the Christmas celebration starts in earnest.  The heat gets turned back here at the church, the lights are switched off; and finally, after I do a last-minute check of things, I lock up for the night and head outside to go home.

And every year, that’s when it happens: I’ll look up at the night sky, feel the cut of the night air, hear the utter quiet that has descended upon the busy streets; and suddenly it’ll hit me:  Dear Lord, at last it’s Christmas!  And all over this community and nation and world this night, people are celebrating and singing and worshipping – almost certainly in a different way, but still celebrating nonetheless – all because God so loved this world that he gave us his son. 

In these moments I’m inevitably reminded of the words of a poem that I have known and loved for many years now; written by the Rev. Phillips Brooks, who was also the composer of “O Little Town of Bethlehem:”

 
 

Tags: , ,

What Shall You Do With This Child?

christmas_nativity_at_sun_rise

(a meditation for Christmas Eve 2015, based on Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20)

Christmas – true Christmas – is the divine expression of infinite love.  If there’s one message that each one of us takes from this place tonight, that should be it; for above and beyond everything else we attach to this season, first and foremost, Christmas is about God’s coming to us in the guise of a child.  The old and familiar story that we’ve told again tonight is no less than that of the heavenly God who bends low to the earth that he might truly dwell among us. And so Christmas is truly, and quite literally, a supernatural tale; and yet, it’s also a story that is wholly and, might I add, delightfully earthy and altogether human!

To begin with, it all unfolds in, of all places, a manger… a barn, really… what I remember one little boy in a Christmas Pageant years ago referring to (and quite disgustedly, I might add) as “a dirty, smelly old cow shack!”   It doesn’t get any earthier than that; and what a place for any baby to be born, much less the Son of God!  And then there’s Mary and Joseph: two people who were young, impoverished and in a very real sense, anonymous; not only in the sense that they were far from home, but also far removed from any kind of societal status or power prestige: these were two people who were pretty much the last ones you’d ever expect to bring forth a Messiah into the world.

And yet, here they are on a silent, holy night, looking on in awesome wonder as “Christ the Savior is Born.”

Actually, and I mean this in the most reverent way possible, I’m thinking this is where our manger scenes get it wrong.  I mean, most nativity displays usually have the baby Jesus lying at the center of a stable in a feed trough of hay, with Mary kneeling at one side of him with a look of saintly adoration on her face; very often with arms held up and palms uplifted in prayer.  And then there’s Joseph; looking all stalwart and dependable without much emotion at all!

It’s a wonderful, peaceful image, and I love it… but in truth of fact, anyone who has ever experienced or shared in the experience of childbirth will tell you it’s not like that at all!  Having a baby is this incredible mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration, abject fear and utter excitement; and you have to suspect what was happening with Mary and Joseph, at least at in those first few moments, was closer to breathless surprise than quiet adoration!  It really seems to me as though a more accurate depiction of the manger scene would be for a truly overwhelmed Mary to be holding this little baby in her arms and wondering aloud, “What Child Is This?” while a rather befuddled Joseph stands by with what can only be described as a “goofy, new father grin” on his face!

In fact, I suspect that what Mary and Joseph were doing on that first Christmas night was taking turns cuddling that baby!  They were doing all the things that new parents do; they were busy counting fingers and toes; marveling at the softness of his skin and just how very tiny Jesus was.  And therein lies the true miracle of Christmas: that Jesus was not simply a ceramic figure in a crèche; no mere representation of the divine.  Rather Jesus, God incarnate, was a real, live, crying, cooing, sleeping, eating baby; a tiny, helpless infant whose greatest need in those moments of his birth was simply to be held, and touched, and cared for, and loved.

And here’s the thing, friends; all of this?  Yes, it’s what makes this night and our worship together a truly “wonder-full” experience and it’s what draws us yet again to the manger; but it’s also an incredible reminder that this tale of Christmas is not only Mary and Joseph’s story but also ours.  As I said before, Christmas is the ultimate expression of the divine; love made manifest in the manger of Bethlehem.  But just as importantly, Christmas is also found in the receptive hearts of women, men and children who would receive that divine expression as their own.  For as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in words that were both prophetic and utterly immediate: “Unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given.”

Unto us… unto you, and unto me… and the question becomes, what shall we do with this child? How shall we respond to the gift of a Son who is to be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” and yet is still just a baby?   In a very real sense, friends, each one of us tonight are being asked to play the part of a Mary or a Joseph; in that we’re being called to birth and cradle the Christ Child in our own lives. It seems to me that like Mary and Joseph before us, each one of us has to give an answer to this gift; and how we answer determines whether what we recall tonight is simply an old story to be told once a year; or else a way of life and living that transcends each and every day!

Scripture tells us, of course, that Mary and Joseph had already said “yes” to the gift: Mary at the moment she was given the news from the angel Gabriel; Joseph later on in the aftermath of an angel coming to him in a dream. And they did so, admittedly, with only a glimmer of what saying “yes” would mean for them and the world.  They could have said no; as Madeline L’Engle has noted, Mary (and Joseph, too) “was free to do so.”  But they said Yes.  They were obedient; they listened.  And sometimes, writes L’Engle, and “when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand.”

Well, the question for us tonight is if we’re listening for what God would say to us: and whether we’re ready to embrace all of what God has to give us in this gift of a Child.  On this night of nights, we joyfully refer to this Child as “Emmanuel;” meaning “God Is With Us.” It’s warm, and familiar to our ears; but the larger truth of that name is that in Jesus Christ, God is not going to keep us at arm’s length; what it means is that God coming to us that he might live beside us and with us, so that God might share in everything we know in this life; that he might experience every joy and every struggle that is ours. And when we say yes to that; when we open our arms to truly receive God in the guise of a child, then we also open ourselves to a relationship of abundant life and true love.

And who knows where that adventure will lead us?

For now, it is enough for us to pause in adoration of this wonderful baby born now amidst shepherds, magi and a few random farm animals.  We’ll sing songs with the angels, we’ll light candles, and then we’ll run from this place to tell good news of a “Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  And in and through it all, we’ll celebrate; and well we should!  But even as we do, beloved, the question remains:

What will you do about this child?  How will you receive him? Will you hold him in your arms?  Will you save and protect him?  Will you give him your heart?

I hope and pray that Jesus, our Emmanuel, might truly be born in each of our hearts this Christmas; for that will truly make every difference for our lives and for the world.

Merry Christmas, my dear friends; and thanks be to God!

Amen, and AMEN!

c. 2015  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 24, 2015 in Christmas, Jesus, Joy, Love, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

Tags: , , , ,

Shepherds in Search of a Stable

shepherds-on-the-hillside(A meditation for Christmas Eve 2013, based on Luke 2:8-20)

What brought you here tonight?

As a pastor, it’s a question I wonder about on Christmas Eve: for whereas I am definitely warmed by your presence here this evening, I also have to say I’m kind of amazed! And that’s only because however busy it gets for us during this holiday season (and on this night in particular), no matter the weather outside, or whatever happens to be going on in the world around us, nonetheless each and every year come Christmas Eve, we always seem to return to this place with candles glowing, faces smiling and voices singing; sharing in a tradition nearly 2,000 years old that is unfolding yet again tonight.  I just marvel at the fact that we’re all a part of it!

That having been said, though, I ask again: what was it that moved you to be here tonight?  Was it tradition?  A family thing?  Maybe you’ve come to revel in the sheer beauty of it all – the songs, the candlelight and the greenery – or perhaps there’s something nostalgic for you in our gathering; a yearning to recapture a memory from long ago, or as a way of answering a longing within you that you might not be able to define.  Or maybe it’s just the thing you do on Christmas Eve (!); who knows?

Actually, I suspect that there’s more to it than that; that perhaps without our even realizing it, it’s something holy and heavenly that has led us out on a cold winter’s night to come here, and that there’s something inside of us that’s seeking a sign, something intent on rediscovering a hope that slumbers deep within our hearts.  Truth be told, come Christmas Eve we’re all shepherds at heart; each of us running with haste from the fields of our lives to find a stable, looking hard to see the long expected child who makes everything new.

Yes, friends, we’re all shepherds tonight.

Of course, even as I say it, I realize that this doesn’t paint the prettiest picture in the world.  After all, let’s be honest: shepherds, especially in biblical times, were loners by nature; often far removed from the circle of privileged and polite society.  Garrison Keillor describes them very well:  Shepherds, he says, were a “rather motley bunch” with a look (and smell!) to match. In those days, shepherds were not looked upon with esteem by other people.  They were not considered to be high-class citizens, Keillor writes, because sheep are not high-class animals!

It was, however, the shepherds who were the ones to whom the angels proclaimed the joyous good news of Christ’s coming.  And it was the shepherds who left everything behind so to run to Bethlehem and find this child of whom the angels sang.

Which in and of itself was pretty monumental; I mean, they could have missed the whole event, preferring to remain there with the flock gazing at the incredible star that shined in the heavens as they pondered on what had just happened to them; they were shepherds, after all, charged with keeping watch over their flocks by night, and not about to go running off.  But they did go running off, because something came to them and said, “Go… find your hope.  Go and find your dream.  Put away your fear and go and find your joy, for the one for whom you have waited has come.”

The shepherds experienced something holy and heavenly that night, so what else could they do but go and look for the sign of which they’d been told! And no; they weren’t sure of what to expect, nor could they even begin to grasp the idea that God would choose to bring forth a Messiah in, of all places, in a manger filled with hay and mud! All they knew is that they had to go and look and to see for themselves.  And when they found him there, just as the angels had told them; when they gazed upon this tiny, helpless child wrapped in rags amidst farm animals in a stable, the shepherds were changed forever.

Suddenly it all made sense to them, and somehow they just knew that what the angels had told them was all true; that here was a king born amidst the trouble and tears of human life; a ruler borne not out of power or glory, but because of a people’s great need and hunger; a Messiah who was a gift of God unto his creation, a gift pure and full; the very incarnation of love itself.

But then, such has always been the way that God brings the world his hope and peace; for wherever we are in the midst of life and living, there Christ Jesus is born!  Into the places of our grief and loss, into our anger and regret, amidst our searching and sense of wanderlust will always come the fulfillment of God’s promised coming.  Good news of a great joy is ours, and it is proclaimed from precisely the places where we dwell: for to us is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Well, friends, tonight we’re the shepherds in search of a stable, each and all looking for signs of the Savior’s coming, perchance to glimpse “joy to the world” as God has given it.  And make no mistake the signs are there for us to see; but in all the lights and glitter and snowy dreams of the season, we must be careful not to miss them, and thus miss the Christ.  For the true sign of God’s joy ultimately is not to be seen in the world’s celebration, but always and ever found in that place deep inside of ourselves; in the grace and mercy that comes in the midst of our struggle to bring meaning to our lives; in the promise that now and eternally, no matter what happens around us and to us, we are never alone, for GOD IS WITH US.

That’s the sign:  when the holy child, God in the flesh, is born within our hearts; when he lives inside of us as surely as he was born in the Bethlehem stable, then like the first shepherds, our lives also cannot help but change forever.

Like them, eventually this night will be over, Christmas will be past and we’ll have to go back to the fields and return to business as usual.  But tonight, just maybe, we’ll have gotten a glimpse of unearthly joy and thus be moved to go forth and glorify God as we go about that business!

Beloved, whatever it was that brought you out in the cold to come to church on this Christmas Eve, my hope and prayer is that you find it, and more: and that it’s something good, something holy, something of meaning and purpose.  I hope you find it in these moments of worship and celebration, yes, but I especially pray you’ll know it in your heart.  Indeed, may you find the peace and comfort of Christ’s birth on this silent holy night, and… may it be said of each one of us shepherds that when we got back to the business of tending our sheep, we were found to be singing the angel’s song in word and deed:  Gloria in excelsis Deo!  Gloria in excelsis Deo!  Christ is born!

Merry Christmas, dear friends.

And AMEN!

c. 2013  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 24, 2013 in Christmas, Jesus, Joy, Sermon

 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: