Hark! the Glad sound, the Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let every heart prepare a throne, and every voice a song.
Good evening, and grace and peace, all of us with his song in our hearts, all the hymns and carols and joyful anthems, with choirs of angels, in the Name of our Newborn King Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.
A word of welcome in this holy night. Old friends and new friends always, travelers, visitors, kids home from school for the winter break. I know as I stand at the back of the church and listen to the musical prelude each year at this service how I am struck again and again by the sense of what a high privilege and a gift it is, truly, that in all the places on God’s earth that we could be tonight, he has seen fit to bring us here. Good old St. Andrew’s. Just to take that in.
That’s what Rick says when he sees Ilsa at the Café Americaine in Casablanca. “All the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, and she walks into mine.” Of course we know that there are no accidents, no coincidences.
It is destiny, that we would be here tonight. I really do belief that: the Baby in the Manger, God from God, light from light, very God from Very God-- his intention for us from the beginning of time. For some reason, for his own reasons, and they are hard to figure out sometimes, he wants us here. Perhaps because there’s something he knows we need, a word he knows we need to hear or to speak or to pray or to sing that could happen in that particular and necessary way in no other place but tonight at St. Andrew’s. Wondering what it might be tonight. What unexpected gift he has hidden under the tree, with our name written on it.
Perhaps something that will be shared with us. Perhaps something we’ve been called here to share with someone else. A word, a smile, a kindness of some sort, a Christmas greeting. Who knows what difference that might make? Or perhaps the reason will remain a mystery, as there is so much mystery in this night.
In the wide world things seeming out of sorts, off-kilter. Headlines elbowing each other off the front page and messing with the Christmas shopping circulars—from Pakistan to North Korea to the streets of our own cities and neighborhoods. Sometimes just needing to put the newspaper down, to change the channel on the radio.
But to say again, in the midst of all this, and in the midst of everything that is going on in our own lives. Not newspaper headlines, but for us, on the front page. Family, those we love. What’s going on in our own thoughts, in our hearts. The up’s and down’s, victories and defeats.
This particular year, he wanted us here tonight.
We would come tonight not simply to acknowledge and celebrate his birth, long ago and far away. Baby Jesus, the son of Mary, born in the days of Herod the king. But as St. John reminds us, behind the Christmas Card scene there is a lot more going on. This baby’s cry, ringing in the dark streets of Bethlehem, marks the pivot of cosmic history. Our lives and our world.
The victory of God in Christ, the Dayspring from on high, a new heaven and a new earth.
May seem a little hard to get our head around that, late at night, by candle light. But this is the real story. Not a sentimental fairy tale, long ago and far away. But something real, happening. God intervening. Word made flesh, to dwell with us. His birth, and our salvation. Forgiveness, healing, mercy, and blessing. Full of grace and truth.
We walk past the crèche, and under the great Rood Beam, that massive cross, and the inscription, “And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.” The old world passes away.
So simply to say that the take-away about Christmas isn’t Christmas, but what happens after Christmas. The story that unfolds along the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, and the story that continues to unfold across the centuries, to this night in Highland Park. Incorporating all our lives. The generous, costly giving of God’s free and precious gift of himself. To us and for us.
If we watch as bystanders, the day will pass and the New Year will come and life will go back to being what it was before. But if we allow him to meet us here and to make us a part of his story, nothing will ever be the same again.
It is his grace and love that can make a difference, here in this world, for us.
May there be for all of us in this Christmas the compassionate heart of Jesus himself, his love, and a tenderness of our hearts, a gentle spirit, kindness, peace. We would trust in him. Open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts as he approaches, as he is born. Christmas beginning this night, one Christian at a time, until in Christ it will be all Christmas, all the time. Blessings to you, and with much love.