Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve Midnight

Hebrews 1: 1-12

Good evening, friends  . . .  and it is my prayer that this is a good evening for you.  That it is, and will be, a good Christmas.  That the grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness, generous love of the Holy Child of Bethlehem is felt in your heart and in every corner of your life as his free gift. 

To bring comfort in times of pain and distress and loss, to encourage our best efforts at whatever station we find ourselves, to allow a space of contentment and courage and hope to open in us and to be communicated in the world by word and deed.  As the prayer goes, “that we may show forth thy praise:  not only with our lips, but in our lives.”  

Christ in our midst; Christ born, Christ continuing to be present with us.  Word of the Father, now in Flesh appearing.    And as we recall and celebrate the story of our Savior’s birth and the mystery of Incarnation we would see in it all a sign of hope for us both for this life and for the world to come, and life everlasting.  

It’s a tough world out there.  Devastating wars.  Syria.  Iraq.  Yemen.  Afghanistan.   Berlin.  From Aleppo to Ankara.  Political discontent at home and abroad.  Nations divided.   Tensions in concerns of race and class and culture.  Wars and rumors of war.  Hatred.  Fear.  Turbulance and terror and anxiety and a lack of trust.  With all that, you can’t’ help but wonder what this is all about tonight.  A disconnect.  Candles and evergreens.  Shepherds and a manger and a new born baby.  Why would this make any difference?

As I turned to the readings from Scripture appointed for us to read together this night I found myself drawn to this complicated word from the Letter to the Hebrews—and thank you, George, for reading it for us so well.  Not an easy reading.

For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?  And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 

And again, when he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 
But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever . . . .

Our Sunday morning Bible Study group has been reading the Letter to the Hebrews this fall, and they will remember that there’s  a lot about angels in the first few chapters.  So appropriate for us on Christmas Eve, as the Shepherds look into the sky to see the whole shimmering angelic choir.   The wonderful ornament for every Christmas tree.  In the first century people were fascinated and drawn to the idea of angels as beings that would communicate spiritual experience and power.  In Luke’s Gospel  the story of the Birth of the Savior begins when the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary.   And also for us.  In recent years we’ve heard a new kind of vocabulary, as people talk about being “spiritual but not religious,” and maybe there’s an angelic connection there.  To be drawn, in spite of many doubts and a culture of secular skepticism, to the transcendental, the mysterious, the mystical.  There was a time not many years back when there were more books about angels on the shelf in the religion section of the Barnes and Noble than about any other single topic, and we would remember films and television shows.  There was an interesting note in a Gallup Poll a decade or so ago, where more Americans answered yes to the question, “do you believe in angels?” than answered yes to the question, “do you believe in God?”

The Apostle as we have heard his words tonight—he believes in angels, and he knows that there are or at least can be for us spiritual moments and experiences of transcendental grace and power, miracles and blessings, glimpses of the eternal.  But again and again he also is eager to remind us that what we observe this night-- this quiet night in tiny Bethlehem of Judea, the blessed mother, the holy child--this is about much more than angels.  For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my son?   More than angels, more than spiritual feelings.  More than ritual and symbol and ceremony  and mystical visions.  Don’t be distracted by the soft magic of candlelight, we would hear in that message.  Sweet as it all is to us in so many ways.  This is all just prelude:  types  and prefigurings, foreshadowing and preparation.  What was hidden in God from the first hour of creation, now is revealed for us not in mysterious shadow, but  in brilliant light. High Definition.   A child is born, a son is given.   The Dayspring from on high has dawned upon usThou art my Son, he says.  Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.

To say that the point of this Christmas story is not about a temporary reprieve, to lift our mood for a few hours during dark hours and days and seasons with a dose of pleasant unreality, but to open our hearts and minds and eyes and ears and lives now and from now on to what is the new and true reality of his life and his authority.  A sustaining reality.  And we are invited tonight to make a choice, to choose to partake of that reality.  To take a breath, to make that choice.

The dark night giving way to the bright morning.  Lord of our lives, Lord of all creation, the one who lifts us to a new life and citizenship, in his eternal kingdom.  Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.   It’s all about Jesus.  Put all the other characters in the Nativity Scene aside.  It’s who he is, and who he is to us, that matters this evening.  Not simply the sweet baby in the stained glass window or on the cover of the Hallmark card, but God-Man victorious at the Cross, the living eternal Son of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

That’s what this is all about tonight.  How we come into the presence of our King.  How we give ourselves to the authority of his Word.  Turning our lives to his holiness and righteousness.  Opening our minds and hearts and consenting to his action to prepare us for the new life that he has in mind for us.  Which is what our worship at the manger is all about.   Making and renewing the essential commitment of our lives.  Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord, to thee.  Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.

If we leave the manger this evening the same people we were when we arrived, then Christmas hasn’t happened, no matter what the calendar says.  But if we look into the face of the Child and see the One who from this night forward is our King, our Savior and Lord, then it will be Christmas not just this one Night, but from now on: ever more and ever more.

Let all the angels of God worship him.  As Paul says in Philippians 2: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Again, blessings this Christmas Eve, friends, in this season ahead, and always.  Mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, and joy—the word for us from heaven above.   Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

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