10 pm traditional service
I pray that this Christmas Eve greets you with warm moments and future beloved memories. I think when we look upon this time of year we engage in Mary-like behavior. No–I don’t think any of us will have a miraculous birth… I hope.
I refer to the end of the Nativity story in Luke 2 when we read about the excitement of the moment of Jesus’ birth. Of the shepherds excited and going out and spreading the joy of Christ’s arrival. And in the midst of all the excitement, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
I think we try to make this season a trove of treasured moments. There’s certainly a lot of expectation and longing for magical moments. This is the story where the power of God is supposed to be the most magical.
I think when we close our eyes and think of a moment in our past–some memory will pop up…maybe the first special gift we remember getting…maybe the memory of holding a lit candle close to your face while singing Silent Night…maybe the memory is of a beloved movie or Christmas story that somehow speaks to you deeply.
This time of year really is filled with “bell rings lead to angel wings” moments. I really don’t like to use the word magical when speaking about the work of God, but we draw it that way in our understanding, can’t we? How else can we describe a virgin birth? How else can we describe an angel chorus leading shepherds to a new born king? How else can we describe sages from the East traveling over desert and danger to worship and give homage to a baby all descending upon a tiny village in a tiny country to a tiny family of little significance.
The proper word would be miraculous. And it is. But I think when we wrap the miracles of the Nativity story in with movies we’ve watched and treasured memories that we store like fine gems–the miraculous slips into the word magical. And pretty soon we’re onto a highway of all things that could somehow be miraculously magical–the hope that it’s a white Christmas. The answered wish that someone in the military returns home tonight. The pining plea that romantic love will finally be requited. That all conflict around the world will truly cease.
There’s something huge about this story…it has blockbuster written all over it.
And yet the Nativity story shares something so plain and simple. Something that sometimes doesn’t fit with the large theatrics of angels and songs and Wise Men and stars.
The simple story is that we find God in the places we least expect. We find God in a manger–a feeding trough–surrounded by rough animals and the excrement of life. And we find God on a cross–surrounded by rough criminals and the cruelty of life.
Martin Luther describes God’s revelation to us in this way,
“ Behold, this is My Son; listen to him. Look at Him as He lies in the manger and on the lap of His mother, as He hangs on the cross. Observe what He does and what He says. There you will surely take hold of Me.”
That’s the miracle of this story. The plain part. That God shows up in places and reveals to us God’s hopes and desires in very ordinary ways. Sometimes in places that we rather not be and when God shows up, our world is changed.
I think I prefer the magical moments, if I’m honest. We prefer to sing Silent Night as we have sung it every year. We prefer the candles. We prefer to be reminded of the joy to the world and the glory to God moments.
But there have been some Christmases in my past…and maybe in yours…where the magical moments may be stripped away by some kind of dislocation. Maybe the Christmas you’re not with family because you have to be on the road. Maybe the Christmas where you don’t have your special meal because the cook is sick. Maybe the Christmas where the magical glitz have the darkened shroud of loss, and there are empty spaces that were once filled by a beloved.
These dislocation moments might take us away from the cozy, magical ones, and when it does it’s a mean for God to reach you when you wouldn’t expect it.
Because we expect God to be in the magical moments. But if God can show up in a feeding trough, and on a cross, then God can show up in our less magical moments, too. And perhaps it’s those less magical moments that we truly need God to show up and be Emmanuel–God with us.
Because God has promised to show up at the lowest, the least expected moments of our life. God promises to show up in the suffering and weakness of our life and the world and most importantly, God promises to bring us through and pull us into a future promised to be different.
So I pray my friends that whether this Christmas is filled with joy-filled moments that can only be described as magical or if this Christmas there is a deep longing in your heart for change…know that God will show up (perhaps in the least expected moment) and bring you into a light that only can be given through the light of the world, our savior Jesus Christ.
A blessed Christmas to you all. Amen