December 24, 2010 Christmas Eve
Good evening, friends, and as we gather here in the embrace of heaven’s first light, grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Firstborn of Creation, the Head of the Church, the Author of our Salvation, born that winter night so long ago in the Bethlehem Stable, and, I pray, to be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives. To be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives.
Some of you if you were cruising around the internet early this morning may know that I posted up as my Facebook status a quotation from J.C. Ryle, the great old 19th century Evangelical Church of England Bishop of Liverpool, and one of my favorites as a devotional and theological writer. Just this word: Christ is He who has the keys of death and hell. Christ is the anointed Priest, who alone can absolve sinners. Christ is the fountain of living waters, in whom alone we can be cleansed. Christ is the Prince and Savior, who alone can give repentance and remission of sins. In Him all fullness dwells.
And so, may this night and this holy season be truly a blessing for you, rich and abundant in every way, as we gather here at the stable. An opportunity here at the turning of the year to be renewed in Christ, to renew as a matter of our own conscious decision, our loyalty to him--as we join with Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and all the Angelic Host to welcome him into our lives. However we got here. Whatever the circumstances. To know and believe deep down that it has been God’s plan and in his heart and mind from the beginning of creation to bring us here tonight.
Our “Prince and Savior . . . . In him all fullness dwells.” And he has better things in mind for us than we could ever ask for or imagine.
O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end; be thou forever near me, my Master and my friend. I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side, nor wander from the pathway if thou wilt be my guide.
That’s not a Christmas carol, but it is what we might all sing here this evening. A prayer Renewal. Rededication.
What I would hope we will hear in all the wonderful readings and anthems and hymns of this night and in this holy place, is that he has dedicated himself to us. To me, to you. Each one of us. No matter how far away we may have drifted. No matter how ambivalent we may feel about the meaning and direction of our lives.
He didn’t wait until we somehow got our lives up to a higher standard. Which is a good thing. I don’t need to look around the room for evidence of that. All I need to do is look into a mirror. Born for us in Bethlehem, and on his way to Good Friday and the Cross for us. He’s here tonight. Our “Prince and Savior.” Ready or not.
And Mary looks across at us. Would you like to hold the baby? Would you? You came all this way. Here, take him for a moment and hold him close.
I don’t know what kind of messes you may have got yourself tangled up in 2010. I know I got myself into a few. When you get right down to it it’s pretty much the same story for all of us. We give as good as we get. We break promises. We lie cheat and steal. One way or another. Certainly even in undramatic ways fall short of our ideals. Even our better intentions are broken at least half the time by pride, lust, gluttony, all the patterns of self-centeredness. Sometimes just laziness.
But then in the same world we live in, the Shepherds hear the Host of Heaven. Christmas Eve, and they didn’t even have to go to Church. The choir came to them. Found them where they were. And so St. Paul in Romans 8: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s what the real message is and needs to be in every Christmas card.
All around us, then, tonight, the encouragement of this wonderful song of Isaiah, as Melinda has read it for us. To the lost and the least, the broken-down and the broken-hearted, God’s Chosen People from the first breath of the universe now defeated, scattered, lost, good for nothing.
Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The power of God, his strength. The love of God, his mercy. The compassion of God, his sacrifice. All for us. “In him all fullness dwells.” See him in a manger laid, whom the angels praise above.
Baby Jesus: how still we see thee lie. Born that dark winter night so long ago in the Bethlehem Stable, and, I pray, to be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives. An invitation for us to open the doors, as he comes knocking tonight. Not only for the contemplatives and mystics, but for us all. That he might dwell in us, and we in him. To be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives.
Blessings, friends, and joy, peace, in Christ Jesus, in the New Year ahead. And Merry Christmas!