Pastor James Hopkins wrote this sermon for Christmas Eve 12/24/2020. Services were broadcast live on Facebook at 4pm, 7:30pm, and 11pm, and are now available on the FLC youtube channel.
The services were similar but with different hymns, available here: Christmas Eve Hymns.
To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Christmas Eve Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for Christmas Eve, click here.
Perhaps the most startling thing about tonight is that God still wants us.
It’s been a year that in so many ways feels irredeemable. Of course, there is the disease and the suffering and the death. But that’s not nearly all. Coarse and predatory actions by the powerful and the famous – from politicians and Hollywood stars to churchmen and kindly grandparents – actions that once would have left us shocked and ashamed – have now been exposed as so routine that our surprise and shame are mostly gone, and many are ending this year slumped together into a loop of anger, weariness, and despair.
But tonight, somewhere east of here, in the darkness, there is singing.
It is not the cadence of another despot on the march, triumphant and threatening to victimize the powerless. Instead, it is a chant of blessing – a song of relief and rescue, of love, and joy, and hope. Glory to God in the highest, who brings peace to his people on earth.
In our age that is a welcome song, a reassuring word of consolation that, despite our troubles, God still wants us – wants each one of us, individually – and also, wants all of us together as One tribe, at peace with Him and with each other.
The good news of Christmas is that God is here to fix our troubles with a touch of glory. This is particularly happy news because this glory no longer appears naturally in our universe. We closed that door behind us when Adam exercised his option to walk away from Eden.
Since then we have each been born with the instinct of reasonable hate – our instinct is to curve in upon ourselves, to protect and serve ourselves first, and even to do that at the expense of others, if it pleases us. That explains our world and our troubles. Sin turns out to be the coarse, predatory, dismal truth about each one of us, and try as we might, we cannot save ourselves from hating each other for long – we haven’t got the tools or the strength. Some days we even end up hating ourselves.
But on Christmas, our story gets a different ending. Though we cannot save ourselves, Christmas means we can be saved. And it’s all done to us with this touch of glory from above. It’s proof that God still wants us.
The glory in our world this Christmas is only here because it has been imported, shipped to us from far away, and delivered to us at Bethlehem.
Tonight, divine glory lies in the manger. Though that glory can be frightening the first time we encounter it – think of how the angel Gabriel scared the Blessed Virgin Mary when first they met, or how the shepherds in the fields tonight are “sore afraid” – glory is nothing for us to fear.
There is nothing to fear because The glory of the Lord, Jesus, comes in innocence, and though innocence is quite opposite of all that we are, it is with innocence that God intends to redeem us, not to abuse us or enslave us or hurt us.
It is remarkable stuff, his glory. God’s innocence comes pure and powerful, but without destroying us. God’s innocence identifies its enemies, but then embraces them as friends. God’s innocence is alien to us, but its strange touch turns out to be our cure.
And this, perhaps, is most important: On Christmas, God trusts us with his innocence – God trusts himself to you. Tonight this divine and holy child now lies in your arms, begging your care, and especially your love. With peace – and lovingkindness – God is trusting himself to you, as his way of asking you to trust him back. God taking flesh is God’s way of saying: despite everything that’s happened between us, despite all the sinful stuff you’ve done, I still want you.
We can bring all the arguments we like against this Christmas gift.
What about my suffering and the suffering of others in our world?
What about evil?
What about fear?
What about justice?
What about death?
As Jesus grows up, he will offer answers to all of these questions, answers that take us seriously – our freedom, our quests, and our wounds – answers that sound much like forgiveness and virtue and resurrection. It takes time to work them all through. But start with this: Christmas isn’t an idea, or a theory, or a concept. It is a breach, an intervention, a second chance, an invitation, and then more – Christmas is a person. This is the history of the birth of God in flesh, come to us in love, in a bid to have all his siblings home again for Christmas – all of them – especially you – with everybody in and nobody out, toward a day when there is no one left who even knows what it’s like to feel lonely and unloved. Christmas is love incarnate.
Christmas is: God still wants us. As he grows, Jesus will go about the business of saving us from all that threatens to keep us away from Him. All that he does will end in a single point: alien, tangible, divine, fleshly, from Mary, from the manger, from the altar, from forever, physical, sacramental, holy, innocent – touch.
It makes sense. You touch the ones you love, and God does too. So he splashes you with water in the font and tattoos you with his family name. You belong.
He rubs your ears with his words, begging you to listen. You follow.
He lays himself upon your tongue, transfusing you with the Eucharistic mystery of body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine. You are his Church.
He gives you his death as your death, so you don’t have to die. He gives you his life as your life, so come what may you can carry on. He gives you his love as your love, so your embrace of those you love lasts forever.
His innocence absorbs everything about us that isn’t innocent, so when God looks down at you this Christmas, he only sees what is holy, perfect, lovable, divine, as if you were in the manger too.
He sees you as his divine child. This is the real meaning of Christmas: God always wanted you, God still wants you, God will never stop wanting you, and God is here just dying to have you back.
So glory to God in the highest, who – tonight – brings peace to his people on earth – to you. It is a happy song, and with the angels, I pray that you will sing along.