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2013 Homily December 24

Christmas Eve Homily 2013

First Baptist Church of Lewisburg

Those Days

Psalm 96; Isaiah 9: 2-7; Luke 2: 1-20

The saying is that thereʼs nothing certain but death and taxes. Thatʼs not new. Taxes are what bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. The birth of their son is important–not just to them, as births are to parents, but to everyone. And just as the reality of taxes is not new, the love of God shown in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is not old.

Itʼs true that itʼs twenty centuries that weʼve been telling this story. You all have as many Christmases in you as birthdays. Weʼve been hearing it–sometimes acting it out in pageants, when we were younger–all our lives, from the days when this was the time of day stories were read to us, and they began “once upon a time.”

Luke introduces it with these words: “In those days.” Thatʼs not as indefinite as it seems. It links Joseph and Maryʼs journey to what Luke already has been relating. The timing is even more specific, since Luke aspires to what is history writing in his day, connecting events with the tenure of public officials.

Itʼs a wonderful story, and while we enjoy wonders, they make us wonder, and sometimes the foundation of our faith in what God has achieved for us seems to wobble a bit when so much otherworldly stuff is emphasized. Thatʼs when we might seize on Lukeʼs attempt to fix the timing of Jesusʼ birth, to make it more like the sort of record on which our own identities rely, place of birth, date, parents. That brings it down to earth, and thereʼs a time for us as Christians to remind ourselves of the facts, the authenticated events, the real individuals, which connect us to this time of prophecies and miracles, and reassure us that it is not just an enchanting tale, but part of our own history, and to the extent that we have become part of the church, our identity.

Tonight, however, it isnʼt history that I want to emphasize, but the spiritual realities of Christmas. Words wonʼt do them justice. Something so large as Godʼs delivering a dark and often wicked world from submission to its own appetites and fears challenges our capacities to express or experience. Thatʼs why Christmas has music and song, and decoration and ritual, and even in an austere tradition like ours, pageantry. The soul has richer senses with which to receive what God imparts than language or logic.

Here is the message: Christmas is not a once-upon-a-time story. It is the gift and revelation of the living God, and the glad tidings are as much yours tonight as they were for the shepherds. The swaddling around the infant is as much a sign for you as for them. Portents in the heavens, angelic messages, all the guidance that leads to the manger, all the encouragement that God really has done something wonderful– that God has come to us as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Lord– is for you, right now, too. The eternal Godʼs compassion and commission is not just for some point in the past, or for some persons cast in roles we repeat ritually in pageants. Christmas is about the reality of a Savior who is alive now. The birth that matters most is the one we seek in the song which says to God, “cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”

The great promise of Christmas is not what happened long ago and far away, but what God, who has given us this life, and endowed us with so much potential for love, and learning, and living well, tells us about who we are. We are those whose darkness is made light, we are those whose hunger for righteousness will be satisfied, we are those whose instinct of the presence and providence of God will be vindicated. We, who need faith in order to be happy, are invited to come to Jesus, and alongside the rest of creation, to worship him, and from Christmas go forth into the world content, and confidant.

Remember this with every happy holidays! or merry Christmas! that is said, with every seasonal shimmer seen. Remind yourself in those moments amid Christmas tide when you have a chance to think, that God loves you. The great gift of God we celebrate tonight is the certain knowledge that God loves us, and cares for us in this life and the next; and intends for us, through Christmas, to help us to be the children of God we have been made to be for these days.

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