It is an annual pleasure for me to see you who have come to be a part of this worshiping community on this special, holy night of the year.
Throughout my ministry I have marveled at the devotion of people regarding Christmas Eve services. Despite the darkness and the cold people come to be a part of the joy of the season—a joy which has endured through wartime and economic downturns.
I believe we share this devotion to Christmas because Christ’s birth reminds us of the Savior’s humanity even as his divinity is proclaimed by the angels and of God’s caring for humanity despite our frailties and failings. Any human birth reminds us of the promise inherent in the beginning of life and simultaneously the responsibility of taking care of one who is defenseless in a sometimes harsh and cruel world.
Early on Christian theologians looked to the existing scriptures—what we call the Old Testament—for the hopeful signs that God would do this incredible thing—coming to earth not to cause havoc, confusion, or destruction which characterized the stories of Greek and Roman mythology but to receive it as an infant human.
But that is not the end of the story. Prophecy can be fulfilled, but it is the promise to which we must always segue. The infant becomes the man who in this small corner of the world works to make the lives of marginalized people better because that betterment is a sure sign of God’s grace.
And from the announcement to the shepherds—blue collar guys earning minimum wage—the knowledge of the one who would die to make humanity free has spread throughout the world. And though Christianity and Christians are under attack in many places, the influence of Jesus continues to make a difference.
Yet the prophecy remains incomplete. We have yet to experience endless peace; justice and righteousness are often the first casualties when we feel threatened.
Still, Jesus calls us to be that people zealous for good deeds and these deeds abound this time of year; he calls us to self-controlled and upright in a time when some sectors of our society have lost their moral bearings. Will our concern for the poor and hungry extend beyond 3 pm Christmas Day?
In contrast to our celebration, there are no Christmas Eve and Christmas Day observances among the Christians of Iraq this year; their leaders live in fear that a Christian assembly is too good a soft target for Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. I hope that in the midst of our celebration we remember that there are still places in the world where it is a crime to be a Christian.
We are reminded annually of the angel’s message ‘Peace on earth among those whom he favors’ and we too with awe approach the building where a new born is absorbing the world he will one day die for.
Perhaps the church has become the last place where we can forget the almost constant barrage of commercials, the rudeness of crowds, and the music of the popular, secular holiday. If so, then treasure the experience and join with the others around you in proclaiming God’s peace—already here and not yet completely.
As our Jewish friends pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, may we pray for the peace of the world and a season of caring for those in need which transcends the holiday.