Sermon - Christmas Eve

God With Us

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh

St. Luke’s, Portland

December 24, 2016; Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20


"And there were in that same country shepherds, abiding in the field, and keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid." Christmas pageants notwithstanding, these first century shepherds had a rough life. Between wild animals, marauders, and the daily grind of long hours away from their families, our friendly keepers of sheep had plenty of things of which to be both sore and afraid. Add to that the appearance of an extra-terrestrial being with wings, and their stress factor probably went through the roof! The past few months have been a stressful time and there is a good chance that, like the shepherds, you may come to this night be both sore and afraid. Like the shepherds, you may find yourself staring into darkness, worn out from all the bickering, wondering what’s out there and what’s coming next. Add to that the pressures of getting ready for Christmas, and your anxiety might be just as high as those abiding the fields. If that's you, I invite you right now, to take a moment, pause, and let all that go. Breathe. Let the majesty and mystery of this service, the pageantry of processions, the flickering of candles and color of flowers feed your imagination. Let the sound of music and carols, the smell of incense and pine, and the mysticism of medieval ritual and architecture awaken ancient memories and carry you to a more liminal place. Let your senses feed your soul and know deep inside that something greater than usual is happening this night. Hear the message of the angel. “Do not be afraid.” Reach out, hold the hand of a person next to you, and remember that what binds us together is greater than anything that pulls us apart. Know that when we say “all are welcome,” all means all, including you. This night there is a light shining in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Because of Christmas, God is with you. Because of Christmas God is right here.


This is what the angel was trying to say. The Good News of great joy was that the baby in the manger is no ordinary kid. The Good News of great joy was that baby in the manger was God in human form. Theologically this is what is known as the "incarnation:" the embodiment of the energy and the life force of the universe; God becoming a human being. The incarnation tells us that "Jesus" -- whose name means "the one who saves" -- is also "Emmanuel" -- whose name means, "God is with us." The incarnation tells us that God and Jesus are one and the same, that salvation is not something we earn, it is about rediscovering who we are and to whom we belong. Let me give you an illustration of what I'm trying to say. 1There is a painting in a palace in Rome done by an artist named Reni. It is painted on the ceiling of the dome, over 100 feet off the ground. If you stand at floor level and look upward, the painting seems to be surrounded by a fog, which leaves its content unclear. However, directly under the center of the great dome room is a mirror, which allows you to see the painting with perfect clarity. Sometimes God seems like that domed ceiling: distant and kind of out of focus, hard to grasp and understand. Like that mirror, Christmas allows us to see God face to face. Because of Christmas, we can become mirrors of God as well. Because of Christmas, we can be Christ-bearers, people who bring Christ into the world and help others see God face to face.


There is a story of a young girl talking to her mother. "Mommy," she asked, "is God bigger than we are?" "Yes, that's true" her mother replied. "And God lives in us?" she asked. Again, the mother replied, "yes, that's true." "Well," said the little girl, "if God is bigger than us and he lives in us, wouldn't he show through?" The next time someone asks what you got for Christmas I'd like you to think about the questions of this little girl. The next time someone asks you what you got for Christmas, tell what we all received in Bethlehem some 2016 years ago. Show what we all got for Christmas by letting God’s love and light shine through.


Go back for a moment to the shepherds. Once the angel left, they went with haste to Bethlehem, where, as we know, they found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. This image is so familiar to us that we forget how strange it must have seemed. The shepherds had just been met by an angel of God who told them the Messiah had been born. They had just heard a great multitude of the heavenly host – an angel army -- praising God ...and yet were sent to a stable in a cave behind an inn in the poor section of town. The manger tells us that Christmas isn't about presents. It's about presence -- Christ's presence with us. The manger tells us that if we are to find the Christ child, we need to look for him where Christmas came -- in the messy and mundane realities of our daily lives. The manger tells us that Jesus comes where we need him the most.


There is a story of a boy whose parents made him sing in the choir. Week after week, Sunday after Sunday he was there. Finding himself more than a little bored, he used to amuse himself by looking at the old stained-glass windows of his church. Usually he was quiet, but one day he saw something that made him start to laugh out loud. When the choirmaster came over to make him be quiet, he said "but look at that!" and pointed to the top of the window over the altar whose lettering had started to fade away. A “e” was missing so instead of saying, "Glory to God in the Highest" it read "Glory to God in High St." "High Street?" he said, "That's where I live!" The manger tells us that maybe that lettering wasn't a mistake. The manger tells us that when Christmas comes, glory is given to God, in the Highest and on High Street, on State Street, on Congress Street and Cumberland Ave, in our own families and in the family that is St. Luke’s. The manger tells us that if we want to find Jesus, we need to look for him there. If we want to find Jesus, we need to look for him here.


Last week, a parishioner sent me an email saying that all she wanted for Christmas was a faith that will help her make sense of and stand up to the atrocious horror of our current world. Any help, she said, will be appreciated. In response, I would remind her that Christmas was the beginning, not the end, of the story. Christmas was the start of a journey that would lead to the cross, to the empty tomb, and to the kingdom of God itself. People like to sing the Hallelujah Chorus at Christmas, forgetting that it comes only part way through Handel’s Messiah, a great work that concludes at Easter, when the Lamb – which is Jesus -- wins and the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed arrives. In the mean time, our task is to follow the example of the shepherds, listen to the angels, let go of our fears, and make our own journey to the manger, knowing that God will be with us every step of the way. Our task is to share the good news of great joy that because of the Christ who comes at Christmas, the light will shine, darkness will be vanquished, and love will win.

1 This an other illustrations in this sermon are from Illustrations Unlimited. James Hewitt, Editor. Tyndale House Publishing, 1988

Posted in: Sermons 
Post Date: Sunday, December 25, 2016 9:36 AM