A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Christmas Eve 2023

Rev. Dr. Les Martin

Christmas Eve 2023
Rev. Dr. Les Martin

In the name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A little town of Bethlehem how still we see the lie. When I think of it, Bethlehem is kind of hazy. Looking through the windows of probably faux snow painted on, and the palm trees because they’re always palm trees are covered in snow. And perhaps if I’m young enough, in my imagination, the camels have little scarves and acts. Because the reality is, for most of us, Christmas exists mostly in our imagination.

In my imagination, Christmas is often more about what our culture has made it than what the Scriptures say, if I’m honest, from our old Germanic trees, to druidic mistletoe, to Frank Capra, Irving Berlin, brown paper packages tied up with string, Jack Frost nipping at your nose. And that’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown.

The Christmas of my imagination is kind of a warm fairy tale that I’ve only experienced in abstract, never in real life. And it leaves a stale taste of disappointment in my mouth when the season has passed. What’s worse, as I said, it has so little to do with the feast we celebrate tonight. The hopes and fears of all the years are meant in the tonight. in Judea, what was left of Israel was in many ways on its last legs. Under the heel of Imperial Rome with Puppet kings, it was no longer a forced to be reckoned with in the ancient Near East. The second temple, a mere shadow of Solomon’s was served by a priesthood that had sold out to the occupying forces. And the religion of a countryside was a mix of harsh legalism, insurrectionist and wild prophecy and the same old paganism that had never gone away.

Here as the survival of the Jewish identity, if not the Jewish people hung by a thread in a backwater town, a young unmarried girl received news that the hopes and fears of God’s covenant people had now met had now run headlong into the fullness of time. The hopes and fears of all the years are met indeed tonight.

We too, are full of hopes and fears. Conflict in Europe, war in the Holy Land in tension throughout the Middle East, malaise and venality in government, violence, crime and homelessness in the streets, the economy in recession. Honestly, it could be my childhood in the 1970s. But somehow, now, here, after we won the Cold War, somehow, somehow now here after what Francis Fukuyama called The End of History. It is today, all over again.

Our hopes and fears are also more personal. As we all seek our own security, affirmation and control. Will I have enough to retire on? Will my my kids have a future? Why am I so lonely? Because anything I do even matter. Like our ancestors, it is on this night in Bethlehem that our hopes and fears run headlong into a yes. And an amen. For Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wandering love.

The Christmas message has been consumed by our cultural celebrations, reducing the mighty acts of God to the inside verse on a greeting card. Or, at best the words of Linus at the end of 30 minutes. Jesus, God saves Emmanuel, God with us. The Creator of the universe is now veiled in flesh. For us, Bethlehem, the house of bread, has become literal. He is the true bread, which came down from heaven, that one may eat off and never die. This bread given for the life of the world is his flesh, given as certainly in the manger, as it is at Calvary, as it is at this altar. In Him, our true hopes and fears met our true hunger, banished, we get not so much what we want, as we do what we need. And if we know anything about the twisted desires of our false selves, for that, we should be truly thankful.

We hear the Christmas angels, the great Glad Tidings tell, oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. We get not so much what we want. But what we need to live into this truth, to abide with our Lord Emmanuel, as he does with us so freely is the work of our Christian lives. To explain the miracle, to explain the how of living it is the work of our preaching and teaching.

But friends, it is not the work of this night. No, tonight the work is simple. To see, to bear witness and rejoice, to join the praise of the host of heaven for this miracle that makes everything old come new again. Tomorrow with the shepherds that God could come so weak, so lowly, so very much for us. The work of this night is to stand in a place of celebration and joy that lies beyond our hopes and fears, even as it answers and transcends them. It is to wrap ourselves in a rich cloak of childlike wonder and with the virgin to treasure and ponder these things in our heart. And so, mindful of that noble task, and mindful of the hour in the name of the church, I simply wish you the blessing of Christmas, now and evermore.

Evening

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