Saturday, December 24, 2017 – Christmas Eve
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – Loudonville, NY
We gather tonight to hear the familiar story of the birth of Jesus. It’s a story we’ve heard over and over again. Yet, like most beloved stories we never grow tired of hearing it. But do we just gather tonight to hear a story that we know so well, or is there something else that draws us here this night? Is there something else we are looking for this evening? Something that we hope to experience? Is it even possible to hear and experience this story as if for the first time?
If your name is Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman the answer is most definitely yes. These are the six delinquent children from the fictional book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which starts off by telling us what happened in those days. It begins by saying the Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied, stole, smoked cigars, swore, and hit little kids. Then to everyone’s horror they went to church for the first time after being told that the church offered snacks. And despite protests from other church members, they were given roles in the Sunday school’s Christmas play. They had never heard this Christmas story that everyone is so familiar with. They didn’t understand why a pregnant woman would have to travel a long way to have a baby. They were shocked that no one would give them a place to stay. And they were outraged when they got to the part where Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus. In fact, they said that the story should be renamed Revenge at Bethlehem! What happened after that was unforgettable! If you haven’t seen this play, or movie or read the book, I encourage it highly. The point of the story is that the Herdmans, who everyone didn’t want be around – experienced this story with fresh eyes. What would it be like for us to experience the Christmas story as if it were the first time?
Think about it. A young woman is told she will bear God’s son. She is scared. It would be a dangerous undertaking for a young unwed mother at that time. She could be killed, and yet she bravely says “Yes, I’ll do it,” because she knows the importance of this child for the whole world. Yet she doesn’t really understand what’s going on. And if you stop and think about it, do we? Maybe this Christmas story has become just a story to us, and we aren’t shocked by it like the Herdmans. Yet the truth is, it is a shocking story.
It makes me think of that wonderful hymn, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” If you haven’t heard it, I’ll sing a few lines.
Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger
Sweet little holy child
We didn’t know who you were
Didn’t know you’d come to save us Lord
To take our sins away
Our eyes were blind, we could not see
We didn’t know who you were
“We didn’t know who you were.” It’s easy to look at the baby in the manger and think of the quiet Christmas story, but that night was anything but quiet. It was an earth shattering night. It wasn’t a quiet night – Mary was giving birth – not a quiet undertaking -, and the animals were making noise, and the manger was probably smelly. It wasn’t what we think of in our cleaned up stories. But it was a holy night. It was holy because God became flesh in Jesus. We don’t understand it. There’s no scientific formula to figure it out. There’s no video cameras that recorded the event. What we do have are eye witnesses – shepherds going about their ordinary work, when they saw something spectacular. They saw a star – not just any old star – but something out of the ordinary. Was it really a comet like some scientists say? Perhaps, but does it matter? Something extraordinary happened that led them to the manger that night. The star led them. The angels led them. God’s very Spirit led them. Just like God’s Spirit led the Herdmans to go to that church and want to be in the Christmas pageant. Through them people really saw who this sweet little holy child was.
That same Spirit led us all here tonight to really see and experience who this sweet little holy child is. He is the Messiah – the one promised for generations – who came so that people would not be alone. He came so that nothing could separate us any longer from God. He came so that we too would enjoy the glories of God’s kingdom – a kingdom that begins right here on earth – in a manger, in a baby who would grow up to be the Savior of all people, in each one of us. This sweet little Jesus boy, this sweet little holy child, came for each and every one of us. Do we understand how? Do we understand how it was possible? No, we don’t understand any more than Mary or Joseph or the shepherds understood. What we do know through faith is that it was possible. It is possible. All the things we worry about, all the things that cause us to lose sleep, have been overcome by the birth of this holy child who is the Savior of the world.
On this night, heaven came down. God is with us. That is the great news of this night. Amen!