Christmas Eve
Luke 2:1-20

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

We’re going to turn the lights way down for just a minute, just during the sermon, because I want you to go back to that night—that Christmas a long, long time ago. I want it to be dark. I want you to imagine the night; remember the night; experience the night; feel the night.

Feel the cold night air, see the frost settling on the ground and the hay that lies just outside the shelter of the cattle shed. The water barrel in the corner is beginning to form a thin layer of ice across the water’s surface. Steam is still rising up from the freshest piles of manure that litter the stall floors.

In one stall, that has been cleaned as much as possible and strewn with new hay, two parents stand over a feeding trough, where more new hay has been formed into a bed (much more closely resembling a bird’s nest) and where, wrapped in bands of cloth to protect him from the cold, lay a new born child, a baby boy, his parent’s miracle, the world’s most precious Christmas gift.

But this isn’t a Christmas card. This is real life. He’s a real human being, a real baby. He cries when he’s hungry, sleeps when he’s content, is as helpless and powerless as any new born child could be. And yet, this is really God! The same as in heaven, become incarnate! Made flesh, like you and me, to show us what Love is, how much God loves us, how much we should love one another.

Even the animals know that something amazing has happened tonight. They huddle together in awe and stretch their necks over the stall walls to look at this new born babe and to sniff out this new thing that has taken place in God’s creation.

On this most holy night when heaven touches the earth, angels appear, and stars move and serve as guides to those who will follow. And the heavenly hosts sing out the good news: “Peace on earth and good will to all who love God.” And people are drawn “with haste…to see this thing that has taken place.”

What a story! What an incredible, amazing, fabulous story. It is the single greatest event to occur in the history of humankind. So how is it that we have forgotten it? Or at least displaced it and relegated it to a single service (even if done twice) on a single day?

We’re obviously here tonight to celebrate the birth of Christ into the world, but what about our time of preparation for this event. The season of Advent has become the last 30 shopping days till Christmas. Even in the Church, only a few denominations, and even fewer Christians, still recognize the season of Advent as a time to genuinely prepare for the coming of Christ (not Santa but Christ).

Many churches doors are closed and locked tonight and tomorrow for “the holidays.” Christmas, it seems, has become, at worst, a totally secular occasion, and at best, a memorial for something that happened a long time ago, instead of an event that happens for us again and again every year.

We need to remember this night; feel this night; experience this night, and hold it in our hearts as something incredibly wonderful and unbelievably holy.)

Don’t get me wrong; I think Santa Claus is a wonderful guy. I think parties are nice. I like to get and give presents. But our reason for and focus on this holy day season (which we now pronounce “holiday” season) has become skewed.

We teach our kids about the excitement and joy of the coming of Santa, which is fine, but we teach them next to nothing about the excitement and joy of the coming of Jesus, which is not fine. Somehow, we’ve forgotten the story (and its wonder and amazement). We’ve forgotten to feel, and experience, and remember this night.

Wouldn’t be something if we could build up an excitement for – be as excited about – this Christmas Eve service as our kids are about Christmas morning, –be as psyched about the birth of Christ as about the office Christmas party, –be as concerned about having our hearts and minds and spirits in the right place as we are about choosing the right gift.

The true gift of Christmas is God’s gift to all of us through the birth of Jesus Christ. We exchange gifts with one another as a symbol of that gift—to remind us of that gift. But we’ve forgotten the story. We’ve forgotten the night.

The good news is that it’s not too late to remember. To remember the incredible, amazing, fabulous, exciting story of this most holy night, when heaven touches the earth, and angels appear, and stars move and serve as guides to those who will follow, and the heavenly hosts sing out their hymn: “Peace on earth and good will to all who love God.” And people are drawn “with haste…to see this thing that has taken place.”

For this is where the miracle of Christmas lies: in a manger, in a stall, in Bethlehem; in our hearts, in the bread and wine, in this place.
It’s not too late to experience that birth.
It’s not too late to know the true joy of Christmas.
It’s not too late to recall the story that begins at Christmas, with awe, and to celebrate it, and to teach it, and to live into it.
It’s not too late to remember.

Can you feel the excitement? the wonder? the cold, the calmness?
Can you envision the stable?
Mary and Joseph?
the animals,
the shepherds,
the angels,
the wise men,
the star.
The baby; the helpless, powerless, human baby;
God incarnate, Lord of lords, King of kings.

Remember the night. Experience the night. Feel this most holy night.