With many thanks to Pastor Edward F. Markquart of Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle.
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Tonight, as we assemble on Christmas Eve, people are being drawn to houses of worship throughout the whole world. Softly and gently, they come. It is as if the sanctuaries are like gigantic magnets, stretching their magnetic powers into all the world. People from all corners are being drawn to churches tonight. Silhouettes steal across the streets of Khartoum. Shadows toddle by streetlights in Hong Kong. Believers kneel in the tents and bunkers of Baghdad. In Norway and Nigeria, in Bolivia and Bangladesh, people are gathering.
And we too are drawn to the splendor of this story. We too have come to the sanctuary as millions of others are coming this night. We too come to see the candles gently push away the darkness. We too come to listen to the calm and hushed silence. We come to bathe ourselves in the familiar. Familiar songs. Familiar carols. Familiar stories. We too have joined that magnetic processional of Christians everywhere this Christmas night.
But, why have you come tonight? What drew you here?
Maybe you’ve come because it is a dark world in your life; you feel the darkness around you and within you and can’t escape it on your own. Perhaps you feel that you are really drawn to the darkness rather than the light, and you need to hear God’s promises all over again.
Maybe this past year you have felt the prolonged darkness of death, the loss of a parent, child, spouse, dearest friend. Against that deep shadow, you hope to catch a glimmer of God’s holy light.
Maybe you have come being dragged by the ear, because grandma really wants the whole family together. But really, you’d rather be home, watching TV or playing video games, sipping eggnog, warming your feet by the fire. But for the sake of family unity, you come. You’ve lost whatever faith that you might have had once. Part of you wishes God could be alive to you once again, part of you feels this whole God thing is lost on you.
Some of you have come because you are afraid. Deep down inside, you are afraid that you are going to die this year. You sense it, you know it. You have talked quietly with your doctor. This may be your last Christmas with your loved ones, and you want to make this Christmas special without drawing too much attention to yourself. You come because to go from this life to eternity, you can’t make happen yourself. You need a saviour to save you from death by sharing promises of resurrection, promises that begin with the baby in the manger. There is no need to be afraid, “for to you is born this night a saviour.”
Why are you drawn here this evening? Perhaps you have had a rotten time in your marriage this past year. It has been awful at your house and you are here because you want a new beginning. You want to have God help you with the new beginning of love; and if God is the source of all love and source of all newness, you want to have God help you to begin to love again. You want to turn over a new leaf with your partner, God has to be a crucial part of it, and so you are here.
I’ve asked myself why I’m here. Beyond the obvious you’d fire me if I didn’t show up, I’d say part of it is I love the message of Christmas. I want to hear the Bible passages from the book of Isaiah, the vision of turning swords into plowshares, tanks into trowels, bombs into blessings. I come tonight because I want to be a person of peace, to solve problems with love and healing and justice rather than war and conflict. The Christmas Eve service reminds me of my hunger for peace.
And I’m here tonight because I love Christmas music. I was once a musician so it is through music that God’s touches me most deeply. I come for my soul and spirit to be renewed and it is often through music that my heart is gently moved.
But, if I am honest, I also need Christmas Eve because I am afraid. Part of me is afraid that the message of Christmas and the message of Easter and the message of Pentecost and all the other Sundays is a lie, and that I am part of a big lie and maybe so are you. Maybe we are people fooling ourselves with human-made traditions. I am afraid that there is nothing beyond the grave but death. So I come to Christmas Eve for the same reason I come each Sunday. I come because here in worship my heart is opened to the promise that God IS Immanuel, God with us. And in God’s great mystery, I can believe.
For me, for you, for why ever we’ve come here tonight, God’s message is the same, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 1to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Amen.