Tonight is not the night for heavy theology and great analysis. It is the night for story and poetry and song. It is a night of mystery and awe. So let me tell you a Christmas story. There was a time when all the angels where gathered in heaven for an important discussion with God. Things were a mess down on earth. God was terribly concerned about the state of affairs: wars, oppression, violence, famine, and the like.
“I’ve tried everything,” God said. “I have sent them some of the most beautiful words they could ever hope to hear. Think of the glorious psalms, the hymns, the poetic passages of Isaiah. They love to read about peace and goodwill, but they don’t like to live it!
God continued, “I sent them the prophets with promises of release from their sufferings, freedom from their exile. But do they follow the precepts of the prophets about justice and righteousness!”
There was widespread discussion of the myriad of problems on earth. Many of the angels – Gabriel, Michael, and others had been down there on many occasions. They had seen for themselves the sources of God’s lament and shared God’s concern.
“I think the only thing left is for one of you, a member of the heavenly court, to go down to earth. Live with them, not just for a moment, but every day. Get to know them, become one of them, let them get to know you. Only then will there be any hope of heaven being truly communicated to earth. Only then will they understand the great gap between how they have been living and the way I created them to live.
The angels stood around in awkward silence. They had been to earth before, to deliver messages from God or to offer some momentary intervention in human affairs. They weren’t about to volunteer for long-term duty there. Brief visits were enough, thank you very much. The silence lasted for an eternity. Finally, God himself broke the silence. Quietly, determinedly, but without any sense of resignation and no bitterness, God said, “Then I will go.”
How many times have we heard the Christmas story? We sing about it. Children act it out in pageants that warm our hearts. Replicas of the characters grace our homes and our churches. It is so very familiar—perhaps even too familiar. I say that because, if we want to claim the real power in the Christmas Story, the life-changing grace that it carries through the centuries, then we need to find in it the connection it has with us—its application to your lives and mine—not just to shepherds in the field so very long ago.
If Christmas tells us anything, it reminds us that we find God in the most unexpected places. We tend to look for God in the nicest of places, the clean and the warm. We expect we’ll find God in church and in our Bible.
Meanwhile, God appears in a stable surrounded by animals and simple, dumbstruck shepherds. And God still appears in ways that we may find strange and so often catches us—as once in Bethlehem—by complete surprise. God gives us Jesus as the ultimate surprise, the unimaginable event where God became flesh and dwelt among us.
Perhaps you are here, carrying in your heart the highest hopes for the human family, and the deepest wishes for peace on earth and goodwill to all. Maybe the light of the star from the East even shines on you, and the angel's song resonates in you. But maybe you come with a heavy heart following a difficult year in your life. Maybe you have experienced loss, illness and heart break.
Whatever your reason for being with us tonight, I know that you have come because you have hope for a better world and a better time to com. Maybe you have specific things in mind, maybe you are not sure. You may be here tonight because this has been your church for many years of Christmases. You may have been called here tonight by some strange, indefinable pull, some tug on your heart, that you would find difficult to describe. Whatever your reason for being here, know that you are surrounded by God’s unconditional and extraordinary love.
Yes, many many, years ago, the angels stood around in awkward silence. They weren’t about to volunteer for long-term duty there. The silence lasted for an eternity. Finally, God himself broke the silence. Quietly, determinedly, but without any sense of resignation and no bitterness, God said, “Then I will go.” And Mary gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger.
I pray that no matter what 2022 has been like for you that happiness be at your door this Christmas. May it knock early, stay late, and leave the gift of God’s love, peace, and good health behind.