Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve


Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve heard the sentiment these past few weeks that, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” Perhaps you have thought or said the very same. Sadly, I’m afraid that I have to agree as well. As I consider that it just doesn’t feel like Christmas, however, it begs the question, “Just how should Christmas feel?” I suppose that a proper Christmas feeling would include the joyful expectation of being with our extended families, eating a grand meal together, and opening presents piled up high around the tree. I suppose that a proper Christmas feeling might include celebrating together as a community in events like Christmas on Main Street or Christmas with Wartburg, parades and parties and the like. I also expect that a proper Christmas feeling would include gathering in worship in a packed to overflowing church on Christmas Eve as we celebrate and give thanks for God’s gift of love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Add a little snow and Christmas lights, cookies, carols, and candy, and maybe, just maybe it’s beginning to feel a bit more like Christmas.

Well, you don’t need me to tell you that many of those things simply didn’t, aren’t, and won’t happen this year, and perhaps that is a lot of the reason it just doesn’t feel much like Christmas. Of course, there’s more to it than that. The year began with bushfires in Australia that burned over 46 million acres. Then there was the assassination of an Iranian general that raised the specter of World War III. This was followed by presidential impeachment hearings, a worldwide pandemic, lockdowns, worldwide recession, race riots, looting, and not-so-peaceful protests. And don’t forget the murder hornets. There was a tremendous explosion in Beirut, more pandemic, more riots, capped off with a tumultuous and seemingly interminable presidential election while the pandemic rages on as the New Year approaches. The world, our nation, our communities, our families, our lives seem to be suspended over a vat of chaos, and uncertainty about tomorrow threatens our comfort, peace, and joy today. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel much like Christmas?

But it is Christmas Eve, and we are gathered here in warmth and light when it’s bitter cold and dark outside these walls. We are gathered here because it is Christmas, regardless of how it may feel. We are gathered here by, around, and because of something and someone that is True, no matter how we feel, no matter what we’ve experienced, no matter how disappointed we might be, how lonely, how afraid.

Surely that’s how the people of Israel felt when Isaiah prophesied to them, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. […] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” The halcyon days of the Davidic empire were long past, Samaria had fallen, and Judah had become a colony of the Assyrian colossus. The people were divided politically, culturally, and religiously – sound familiar? – and they had lost their identity as the chosen people of God who were blessed to be a blessing. Sure, Isaiah’s promise sounded great, but who could believe it? The truth is, not many, but only a remnant.

Fast forward 700+ years. Israel was ruled by the Romans. Herod the Great was the puppet king of Judea. Herod himself reflected the flux and diversity of his time being ethnically Arab, culturally Greek, politically Roman, and religiously a Jew. For 700 years Israel had been divided and ruled by other nations and cultures having other religions and customs, and no prophet of the LORD had spoken in Israel for 400 years. The burned-out stump of Jesse was lifeless and dead, and the vast majority of Jews had given up hope and stopped looking for the Messiah altogether. It was into such a time and world as this that the Christ child was born – into a land of deep darkness, when all was still and it was midnight, when all but a fool’s hope was extinguished and gone. That is when God acted. That is when God always acts.

A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. It was a census, just like we had this year. The government wanted the citizens to be counted so that they could be taxed accordingly. That is why a nine-month pregnant young woman traveled the long, arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with her betrothed husband, to be counted and, unbeknownst to them or to anyone at the time, to fulfill the prophecies, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given […] Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom,” “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

So mundane. So common. Men and women simply going about their business, doing what needed to be done, with no real hope or expectation of anything wonderful, marvelous, lifechanging, or salvific. While they were in Bethlehem, the little town crowded with visitors registering for the census, the time came for Mary to give birth. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The first people to learn of these wondrous happenings were lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. To them an angel of the LORD appeared saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The shepherds went in haste to see this thing that the LORD had made known to them. Upon entering Bethlehem, they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger, just as the angel had told them.

“It just doesn’t feel like Christmas?” Just what is Christmas supposed to feel like anyway? I’m guessing the first Christmas didn’t feel much like Christmas either. In all likelihood, it felt pretty much like any other day. But look at what was going on in secret, quiet, and hidden ways through things as mundane and ordinary as government and a census, a small town full of travelers, a mother giving birth, shepherds watching their sheep at night. When all was still and it was midnight. When no one was expecting anything, and few were hoping or looking. That is when God acted. That is when God always acts.

Approximately 2022 years ago Joy entered this world of darkness, sin, and death, and that has changed everything! A Light, the True Light of Creation shines forth in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Whatever this year has thrown at you – separation and loneliness, illness and death, financial uncertainty, discontent, frustration, and anger, – whatever it is that threatens to rob you of your joy, that threatens to rob you of that Christmas feeling, take heart, it will pass. Christ is born, and that is the Truth, no matter what. You have Peace with God through His Christ, therefore you can have peace with your brother, your sister, and your neighbor, no matter what. While the nations rage and people plot in vain, while kings set themselves and rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His Anointed, He who sits in the heavens laughs. He holds them in derision. The LORD is in control. The LORD has always been in control. He who raises up enemies and permits affliction to befall His elect has also saved them and will deliver them in His time. Therefore, we are not afraid. What can man or nature, disease or devil do to us for whom Christ was born, for whom Christ died, for whom Christ has risen, and for whom Christ will come again? “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!” That is the Truth, then, now, and always. Do not be afraid.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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