Christmas Eve Sermon (2023)

Christmas Eve
Texts: Luke 2:1-20;
Isaiah 9:2-7

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I’d like to tell you one of my favorite Christmas stories. It also happens to follow rather nicely on the theme of the past two Sundays (Advent 2B and Advent 3B), when we’ve talked about a deep form of repentance which basically involves becoming human in a new and better way. More on that after the story.

Do you remember long-time radio personality Paul Harvey? His regular radio features were primarily stories that led up to somewhat of a surprise ending — to which he always tipped with the tagline, “And now the rest of the story.” He used to tell a Christmas story that he said was his most requested story to tell. I share it with you this holy evening.

It is the story of a man who had a real problem with Christmas. It wasn’t an Ebenezer Scrooge type of problem, that he was a cranky, old, stingy man. On the contrary, this man had always been kind and considerate to everyone. He was caring and sensitive, a good husband and father. In the eyes of others, he was a good and honest man.

No, this man’s problem with Christmas had precisely to do with the incarnation, with the Word made flesh that this season celebrates. He couldn’t understand it. He couldn’t accept it. He couldn’t believe in it. God become a human being, born a small baby in a manger? What sense does that make?

Finally, one year he shared these feelings with his wife more directly, as a way of explaining why he couldn’t go with her to Christmas Eve services this year. To be honest with himself, he just couldn’t go to celebrate something he didn’t believe in. His wife reluctantly, sadly, packed up the children and left for church without him.

Almost as soon as they left, a winter storm blew up. Snow began to fall, and the wind began to howl its icy boding. The man sat down to read in front of a warm fire.

Suddenly, there was a thumping sound from the front window. It sounded as if somebody was pelting their picture window with snow balls. But he couldn’t imagine someone out in such a storm on Christmas Eve, with nothing better to do than to throw snow balls. With the porch light turned on, he opened the drapes. Through the driving snow, shimmering in the light, he saw several birds flopping around under the window. They didn’t look permanently hurt, mostly suffering the discomfort and pain of the harsh storm. Apparently, they were desperate to find some shelter and had flown into the window. Now, they flopped close to the house for any kind of shelter from the full force of the wind.

As I said, he was a kind man, and his heart went out to them. He wished he could help them. He remembered the pony shed out in back, a perfect shelter for them, if he could only lure them there. He put on his winter gear and went outside, turning on the backyard spotlight and opening the door to the shed. But how could he lead them there? They wouldn’t just follow him. So he went to get some bread crumbs and made a trail from the window to the shed.

It didn’t work. Nothing worked. He even tried catching them, in desperation, but it was no use. They were just too afraid of him. He tried and tried to help them, but they just couldn’t trust him. It was so frustrating! He even began to think to himself, “Gee, if I could only speak their language for a minute, I’d be able to convince them that I’m trying to help. Better yet, if I could only be one . . . of . . . them . . . .”

Just then the church bells began to ring out “Joy to the world, the Lord is come…” If I could only be one of them.” He understood.

And now the rest of the story. In the sermons of the past couple weeks (Advent 2B and Advent 3B), I’ve introduced the idea that the sin which Jesus the lamb of God came to take away is our idolatry — this deeply ingrained habit we have of subconsciously creating gods who command things like blood sacrifice, and war, and capital punishment. It’s the idea that our species actually evolved with gods who justify our own human forms of punishment. These are wrathful, punishing gods of whom we are right to be afraid of. Above all, they are false gods. And since they are part of our evolution, they are difficult to put behind us. After church last Sunday, we talked about how these false gods still pop up in our thoughts. When bad things happen to us, for example, the thought can still arise, even if we quickly try to shew it away, “What did I do wrong that God is punishing me?” Do you ever still have those thoughts?

Here’s the rest of the story. There is a true God who lovingly created us and all of creation. This true God saw how we had invented in our own minds gods that we were afraid of. How could this true God ever get through to us? God tried sending prophets, but even they didn’t get things perfectly right. Nothing was working, because those false gods still lived in our minds and hearts. Finally, God decided that the only way was to become one of us. And so on a chilly December evening over two thousand years ago, God was born in the humble surroundings of a stable, wrapped in cloths, to a desperately poor peasant couple in the backwater fringes of the mighty Roman empire. There was no royal fanfare, other than a chorus of angels appearing to shepherds in a nearby field. “Do not be afraid,” they said. There was the main point in a nutshell. We no longer need be afraid of the true God, in any way.

Are there still plenty of things to be afraid of in this world? Of course. But they are most often things of our doing, the kinds of terrible things we are inclined to do to each other, often based on those false gods of our own creation. No, the true God came to be with us one Christmas Eve long ago, not only to tell us to not be afraid but also to show us the true way to peace through the more true way of being human. God became one of us so that we can learn a better way to be human, to help make this world a better place. Don’t be afraid! Joy to the world, for the Lord is come! Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Bethania Lutheran Church,
Racine, WI, December 24, 2023

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