Christmas Eve: Love is Here

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Luke 2:1-20

Unless you are brand new to Christianity and had no idea before this evening what this Christmas thing was about at all, or unless you were dragged here against your will, the story I just read is the story you came to hear. It was a compelling story for a lot of reasons long before my great great grandparents were born, so don’t worry: I won’t try to add much to it. We’ll be back to singing carols in a moment, and then we can part peacefully into this night on Christmas Eve. 

But I’m also aware that the story is, like a lot of things religious, both so familiar you might’ve spaced out during the reading and it’s entirely foreign to our brains.

It happened in a Palestinian town on the West Bank whose name means “house of bread.” There weren’t any lights or candles or presents. It probably wasn’t even winter, really, at the time.

These shepherds — the ones on the front of your bulletin — they’re herding sheep in the region nearby. It’s nighttime, so chances are they’re sleeping or lounging by a fire, talking about nothing, you know, like you do I guess when you’re herding sheep. 

Then, the most alarming thing happens. It would seem that the world exploded into light and an angel appears before them. And the angel talks and says the oddest thing:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

This is where Shepherd #1 immediately stares at Shepherd #2 to make absolutely sure that that guy is also seeing what he’s seeing.

Because you see, none of this makes sense. 

Surely the shepherds would think about it just like you might: angels, if there are, in fact, angels, don’t just appear to people. And if there are angels and they were to just appear to people, they’d probably go appearing to some high level government official and calling them favored — not some random lower class laborers. It seems hard to believe.

Let’s be honest: this ancient story can seem pretty removed from us, here, in western Massachusetts in the twenty-first century. Even if you believe it was real, it probably doesn’t feel real. At least not as real as maybe it used to. 

Bethlehem seems a little far from here. 

Besides geography, we make it clean in our minds — Christmas is such a shiny holiday that there’s a whole genre of literature and advice columns and worship services dedicated to those who are not happy on Christmas. People who have lost loved ones, people who are getting divorced, people who are sick, people who are addicted, and people going through any number of hardships can feel even more awful this time of year than you normally might because everything around you is shiny and green and gold and red and telling you to be joyful. 

If that’s you, or if you’re just not feeling it this year, or maybe even if you are, Bethlehem seems a little far, I know.

You may have been with us every Sunday since Easter, or we may’ve not seen you since Easter or we may not have even seen you before now, or likely, somewhere in between. Maybe you’re visiting us from far away because you’re visiting your family. 

No matter what brought you here — from across the country or down the street, and whether we saw you in worship yesterday or whether we’ve never met you before, welcome to Our Savior’s. 

I know it seems a little far from Bethlehem, but this is our place. 

This past year, we’ve seen our share of life, and we know you have, too. 

We’ve driven through snow and we’ve driven with our windows down. We’ve worried about our loved ones. We’ve visited each other at hospitals and hugged one another at gravesides. We’ve also felt joy: we’ve sung at the top of our lungs. We’ve clinked glasses with our friends. We’ve laughed until we cried — sometimes during council meetings.  

And we’re still here. 

And we bring you tidings of great joy, because God has put on flesh and we’ve seen it. 

If Christmas is about God breaking through to us, and this year, we’ve broken through to each other. This year, God put on flesh in the faces of our members who have showed up for each other and for me. 

And if we haven’t seen you much this year or if we’re just meeting you for the first time, chances are, in some way, somebody this year has broken through for you, too. Because you see, whenever we find love, whenever we enjoy love, whenever we remember love, the holy is born in us again. It’s always there, as close as our next breath; love is here, in the spaces between us, if you know how to look. 

It turns out that Bethlehem is not so far from here at all. 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Whoever you are, and wherever you come from, we bring you tidings of great joy, for love just keeps breaking through. 

You see, [as I said yesterday], the best thing about Christmas is that, unlike most other things, we’re never let down at the last minute. Not one Christmas in the history of the Church has the congregation showed up only to hear some church authority go, “Sorry, we’re not doing it this year.” The last candle, the one in the middle, always gets lit. 

As my Episcopal priest friend Joseph says, the baby Jesus never doesn’t get born. It doesn’t matter how much pain the world is in or how much pain we are in or what you believe or don’t believe about what “really” happened or where this holiday actually came from.

The candles get lit and the carols get sung and love breaks through. Every year. 

Whenever love breaks through, the Palestinian town on the West Bank whose name means “house of bread” is close. 

Love has broken through again, in our very own House of Bread, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. Here we break the bread baked by our members and we become part of a ritual two thousand years old. The ancient meets the old meets tonight. Love breaks through again. 

Bethlehem is not far from here, because love has broken through again, in every time love has shown up in the spaces between us and every time it will again. Thank God. Amen.

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