Here we are again. For many of us, this is a night of traditions: visiting friends and families, having a special meal, hearing wonderful music, going to church.
And I imagine I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders – why do we do this? What’s the point of this routine? Why do we tell the same story over and over again? I’ve heard it all before; none of the details are going to be any different this year.
Many of us come to church on Christmas Eve to hear the miraculous story of a child born to a virgin, followed by stars, visited by angels. We come to hear the story again and again of God breaking into our world to save our world from sin and destruction.
And I imagine I’m not the only one who sometimes doubts the details. Maybe the date of December 25 is just a little too close to the Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice to be a coincidence. What if Mary wasn’t a virgin, does that change everything? Why does one gospel talk about shepherds and another talk about wise men and the other two say nothing at all about Jesus’ birth? And where does Rudolph fit into all of this anyway?
And I imagine I’m not the only one who sometimes asks “what happened? I thought that Jesus was born to save us but the world is still hurting.” 2000 years later and we’re still surrounded by oppression and war and hate and suffering. So, what happened?
I know I’m not the only one who hates the struggles of the world creeping into the celebration of Christmas. This is supposed to be a season of song and light and yet the news keeps trying to ruin it by talking about racism and shootings and death.
I wonder if I’m not the only one who comes to church and wonders why we’re doing this all again this year.
But then I hear the story again.
Emily and Sam and Stephen and Mary and Claire combine their voices in a way that is just a little different from other years. The choir puts a bit of a different spin on familiar songs. There are a few new faces in the pews and even the ones that were there last week shine with just a bit more brightness.
And then I start to get it.
Through the routine of hearing this same story over and over again I’m reminded that I need to hear it over and over again. I need to be reminded that the light of Christmas always shines. It’s always there even in – especially in – the darkest of times. It’s not that the scary struggles of the world are trying to push their way into Christmas, it’s that the excitement and celebration and hope of Christmas will always be more powerful. Even through the bad news the Christmas story shines.
And I need to hear this story over and over again to be reminded that Jesus wasn’t born to save us as much as to lead us to save each other. In the routine of this story is a message of revolution. The story of the Christ child says that there is always a better way. When Jesus was born into an Empire that kept the peace through violence, God burst into the world not as a powerful warrior bent on destruction but as the child of a poor, immigrant, homeless couple. He wasn’t born in a palace surrounded by servants and power but in a barn surrounded by animals and filth.
This story tells me that I’m not the only one who sometimes has doubts about my faith. Mary and Joseph ask questions of the angels, Jesus lives his life challenging long-held beliefs and even he had times when he struggled to believe that God was still with him. This story doesn’t require me to believe without questions, it tells me that my faith can grow stronger because I question it.
And as this baby grew he dedicated his life to serving others. I need to hear this story every year to remember that I’m not the only one in the world. I need to hear this story to remember that this child who was worshipped by shepherds and kings alike grew to a man who served others through a life of love and peace; a man who taught others to do the same.
I hear this story of a Christ who came to save and I wonder why the world is still broken. Then I hear the story again and again and I hear our call: the call to see the revolution in the routine, to find faith in our questioning, instead of waiting for Christ our call is to save the world let Christ into our heart so that we can see Christ in our neighbor. We are called to be Christ to the world.
Listen to what the story says:
Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.
Do not be afraid.
The Holy Spirit is upon you.
In a world of bleakness and uncertainty, God gives us the gift of sight and insight. When we hear the revolutionary story of Christ’s peace, we can recognize that we have the ability to see what’s wrong with the world and to commit ourselves to stand up and call it out. We can raise our voices against racism and homophobia and incivility and injustice and we can dedicate our lives to creating the world that was born in that dirty, smelly, barn but is destined to become a glorious feast where everyone has a seat at the table.
When I hear this story again and again, I hear the call of the Christ child to follow and I know that I’m not the only one.
I’m not the only one who needs to hear that it’s okay to have questions.
I’m not the only one in this world – others need my help.
I’m not the only one who can make a difference.
Where will you see the Christ child in your life between this year’s telling of the familiar Christmas story and next year’s? Will you hear God’s call to not be afraid? To follow in the footsteps of the child? To be the Christ that you are waiting for? Where will the story take you in the next year?
I’ll be back here again next Christmas and I’ll be looking forward to hearing the story again.
And I’m sure I won’t be the only one.
Merry Christmas. Amen.