Sermon: Meditation for Christmas Eve

December 24, 2021

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
Luke 2:1-20

by Eric Anderson

Here we are again. It’s familiar, but not. We’ve heard this story before. We are accustomed to hearing it inside a big room, surrounded by family and friends, night’s hush falling outside, the lights dimming as one by one, two by two, candles spread a glowing light upon each face.

Last year we had to observe this holiday with a televised service. We combined recorded music and live candle lighting and tried to make this big room feel just a little smaller, a little more homey. This year we’ve tried to capture a sense of this room as a church, speaking from pulpit and lectern, gathering an instrumental trio, relishing the reverberating wonder of a soprano voice.

But as Cameron B. R. Howard writes at Working Preacher, “I don’t know that a December 24 worship service counts as ‘Christmas Eve’ in my mind unless at the end I’m holding a little white candle threaded through a paper disc, lifting the candle up during the final verse of ‘Silent Night,’ and then blowing it out as the lights come back on and the pipe organ begins to play ‘Joy to the World.’”

So… does it count?

Mary and Joseph might have asked the same question. They had both had their lives thrown into turmoil. First, there was this unanticipated pregnancy. I’m sure that as an engaged couple, they planned to welcome children into the world. I’m also sure that they hadn’t planned to welcome a child quite yet. You might recall that Mary’s reaction to learning of her pregnancy was to go seek out her cousin Elizabeth, someone to give her an anchor amidst stormy emotional seas.

That would be enough to unsettle any person and anyone in a couple. But then along came Augustus Caesar or Governor Quirinius of Syria, who decided that it would be nice to get the population surveyed for efficient administration of taxes. For some reason – Luke’s explanation doesn’t match Roman practice for these registrations – Joseph and Mary had to leave Nazareth and travel south to Bethlehem. Instead of her family and the local midwife, Mary would be cared for by Joseph’s cousins and a midwife she’d never met.

So. Not as planned. Not as desired. Not as desirable. A stable has a roof, for sure, and first century dwellings for the poor were rarely much better than a stable, but who wants to have a baby next to an ox’s stall? I’m sure Bethlehem had competent midwives – I know there was at least one, because she brought Jesus into the world – but who wants to be attended by a complete stranger as you bring your first child into the world? I’m sure Joseph’s cousins tried to be helpful and comforting, but they had to be strangers to Mary, and who wouldn’t want the presence of her own family to welcome her first son?

Not as planned. Not as desired. Did it count?

The angels thought so. They went and sang to the first audience they could find. Shepherds. That sounds rather pleasant and quaint, but mostly a shepherd’s life was rather rough and smelly. The proper audience would have been kings and emperors and rulers, the metaphorical shepherds of the people, not the actual shepherds of actual sheep. They didn’t belong in an angel’s audience. They belonged in a stable, for heaven’s sake.

Which is, come to think of it, where the angels sent them.

Not as planned. Not as desired. Did it count?

The shepherds thought so, because they glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard. The people the shepherds told thought it counted enough to be amazed by it all. The midwife must have thought so, because when her work was done there was a new person in the world. Joseph thought so, because as long as he lived, he was there for the boy Jesus. Mary thought so, because she treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Luke thought so, because he took the trouble to write it down. Generation upon generation of Jesus’ followers have thought so, because they copied and translated and printed and distributed and told this story again and again and again.

It counted.

So does this video streamed gathering tonight. It counts. We cannot compensate for the things it lacks – and I do miss watching this sanctuary filling up with candlelight – but it counts. The story has been told with reverence and faithfulness and mystery and wonder. So it counts. The people of God have once more remembered that God is present in the birth of a child, so it counts. The followers of Jesus have taken the chance to embrace God embodied in the preciousness and vulnerability of a newborn. So. It counts.

As Maren Tirabassi writes so beautifully at Gifts in Open Hands:

I am sad for myself and for you
in these tender “missings”
and only remind us all,

that Mary and Joseph had many
surprises – the warmth of cow breath,
starlight, jingle of a sheep’s bell,

Look around on Christmas Eve
and Christmas Day
for the tip of angel wing prepared for you.

May you treasure all that you have seen and heard tonight, and ponder them in your heart. May you glorify and praise God for the things you have been told. May you look around and see the tip of angel wing prepared for you.


Watch the Recorded Meditation

The video above includes the entire service for Christmas Eve 2021. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the Meditation.

Some things change from the plans – like the variations from prepared sermon to preached – and they count.

The image is The Birth of Jesus Christ by Anonymous (19th cent.) – Dorotheum, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on December 26, 2021

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