There is something always so calming about the Christmas Eve worship service. From the scripture to the hymns you can feel a comforting and peaceful presence in this time and place. But I have a confession, the last 24 hours have been anything but calming for me. As I sat in traffic yesterday doing some admitted last minute shopping, I watched as people rushed in and out of shops and shopping centers. Focus and in a frantic hurry. I heard on the radio that yesterday was expected to be the biggest shopping day of the year, even bigger than black Friday.
My guess is I am not alone and many of you all have been pulled in lots of directions over the past few days or weeks, maybe even months. Maybe you even felt like your heart, mind, and soul has been consumed and distracted by many things; from social calendars, to cultural and family expectations to troubling current events that are surrounding your life.
I am sure some of you have joined me in frantically searching online or searching stores for the perfect gift for loved ones and friends. Some of us might have searched our house for all the decorations and spent hours preparing our home to welcome family and friends. Of course this time of year is also hard for many people as their life feels overwhelmed by uncertainty, anxiety, and grief. My hope, as the things of this world have consumed your thoughts and emotions over the short days and long nights that you were able to take a deep breath as you entered into this worship space and find the noises of a frantic world quieting down, if anything for an hour or so.
That is the wonderful thing about the gospel reading for tonight, it is an inspiring reminder that God’s message can interrupt us right where we are; whether our mind and hearts are running franticly through to do lists or overwhelmed by the world around us. Tonight we can let God’s story of good news of great joy interrupt our overburden hearts, minds, and souls just as God interrupted those shepherds who were busy with their life and work.
Tonight we are able to faithfully come and gather together, take a deep breath, worship together, and let God’s good news of great joy center our hearts, minds, and convictions towards God’s purpose for the world. That purpose is love.
FOR ALL THE PEOPLE
The angel shared with the shepherds, “I am bringing you good new of great joy for all the people to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord…”.
In the comfort of our pews it might be easy to take for granted what a proclamation this was to the shepherds keeping watch over the flock by night. The opening words of the angel’s joyous proclamation were radical in them self. “Good news of great joy for all the people.” We live a world of the haves and the have nots, a world where some have political power and others do not. We live in a world where some have social and cultural power and others do not. At the time of Jesus’ birth it was even more divided by politics, religion, and social structures. Usually good news was only reserved for those with power, prestige, and privilege.
As we heard in tonight’s story, Mary and Joseph who were preparing for the arrival of their child did not fall into the privilege and prestige category. You do not have prestige and privilege when you are forced to leave your home because of the Emperor’s political reasons. The shepherds were lacking the same status and privilege too. Not only were they seen as lowlifes socially, they were seen as unclean in their religious life. Yet today the angels are proclaiming that God’s good news of great joy is not for some…it is for all the people!
The good news of great joy for all the people was the gift of love revealed to the world through our Savior and Messiah, Jesus. The Angels sang out a song of glory telling the Good News of great joy. God favors all the people, and God’s gift will bring peace to all the earth. Not peace to only the Romans, or peace to any particular nation, or particular group of people, but peace to all the earth. A peace that lifts up the lowly and the marginalized, a peace that brings humility to those who have power and prestige. The good news of great joy for all the people is God chose love and mercy for the world through Christ. There is nothing we have done to receive God’s favor. God’s love for us is a free gift of truth and grace made known to us through Jesus, our Savior.
GOD WITH US—UNEXPECTED PLACES
A powerful element of tonight’s gospel reading is the way God’s purpose of love revealed to the people in the unexpected and unsought places. I only imagine after the angels left, the shepherds started asking each other, “did the angel really say that the Savior, the Messiah we have been waiting on is going to be lying in a manger?”
It is possible that over the years we have commercialized and romanticized the role of the manger. Let us not forget that the manger was a feeding trough for the animals. In a world of hardships and difficulties the image of Jesus lying in a manger reminds us that God’s love, peace, and grace is with us in life’s lowest moments. So many of us have faced these low moments of life; the grief, the doubt, the struggle with the world around us. Between the manger and the chaotic political and social circumstances surrounding Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ birth, God has revealed to ALL THE PEOLE that God’s love and peace will always be present with us. God’s love and peace will be with us in the expected and unexpected moments, in the midst of joy, and in the midst of hardship. God’s love and peace will be with us in the frantic moments that overwhelm us.
This evening and in the days ahead may this good news of great joy of God’s steadfast love that is with us always center us towards God’s purpose for all things… LOVE. Like in Mary and Joseph’s day when the social, political and cultural chaos and distractions of this world try and pull us in other directions, may the Good news of great joy that God’s love reigns forever center us towards love. May tonight’s message of good news bring you peace and purpose in your own life that is centered on love.
JESUS CHRIST LIGHT OF THE WORLD
In a few minutes we will pass the light of Christ to each other. A moment where we proclaim and remember that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. A light that shines and reigns forever. As we pass the light of Christ to one another let us celebrate the grace, truth, and salvation that Christ brought for all the people. May it be a reminder that Christ’s light does shine in the unexpected hardship of our lives, and may it be a reminder that we are all called to spread and share the good news that Jesus Christ lives and reigns in power for us and that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, will forever shine in life’s darkness.
May tonight’s worship service from the hymns to the scripture to the communion to the candlelight be the good news of great joy that your heart, mind, and soul needs during this moment in your life. May it center yourself and your purpose towards God’s purpose for the world that is LOVE. May we go like those lowly downtrodden and rejected shepherds and glorify God for all we have heard and seen. May we respond to the good news by sharing God’s story of love and sharing our own love to all the people. Let us go from the place praising God for all we have heard and seen on this night. “Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!” Alleluia Amen!