Christmas Eve 2017
“Did you find what you were looking for?” You have likely heard this phrase uttered many times over these past few weeks
Most of the time, you likely answered, “Yes,” or “I’m just looking.” But this evening, on this Christmas Eve, let’s consider the question again: “Did you find what you were looking for?”
On this night we once again hear the old familiar story of an unwed teenage mother-to-be named Mary and her fiancé Joseph making the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem under orders to be enrolled from their Roman overlords. The birth of Mary’s son happens, and we hear that a messenger from God appears to shepherds who get the initial report of the birth of the Messiah. The messenger gives them a sign by which they will find the baby, and a great number of the heavenly host appear to glorify God. The shepherds decide to go check this out, and they find things just as the angel had reported to them. They found what they were looking for!
We know this story. We remember hearing it in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” as Linus deliver its strains in King James English. We know the shepherds found what they were looking for: the baby Jesus, the Messiah. What they perhaps did not know and could not fully comprehend in that moment over 2,000 years ago is what this child would mean for them – and for us.
While Luke tells us the events of Jesus’ birth, in essence, answering the “What happened?” question, we are left with another question: “Why did it happen?” Why did God choose to come to us and live as one of us?
Part of the answer is found in the three short verses from today’s reading from the Letter to Titus:
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy … so that we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
The birth of Christ happened so that we might know God’s love for us and be welcomed into God’s family.
What a radical idea this is –– it was freely given to us by God’s grace. Grace is that unmerited, unearned love that God has for all of creation. The letter goes on to say that this grace “justifies” us, which means it makes our relationship with God right and balanced. God initiates making the relationship with us right. Make no mistake, we have the obligation to respond to this invitation and participate in that relationship; however, we are not the initiators of that action – God is.
And the reason God makes this relationship right is so that we might become heirs, children of God. Eternal life is an often-misunderstood concept and often posited as “going to heaven when you die,” which turns it into some kind of celestial evacuation plan. But that isn’t what the scriptures mean by the term eternal life. Eternal life is living fully and freely in the present now, loving God and each other. This lifetime of loving presence happens right here and now and continues forever.
So when we think about the birth of Jesus beyond the story of what happened and consider why it happened, it leads us back to the question, “Did you find what you were looking for?” Perhaps you haven’t considered that question in this context, but do so for just a moment.
You are here, in this church, on Christmas Eve. Why did you come? Ponder in your heart for a moment the possibility that perhaps something deeper brought you here. What are you really looking for? If we are honest, we all have a deep longing – a sense of something missing in our lives. St. Augustine called this a restlessness in our souls. It is the nagging feeling that we are incomplete and lacking.
We humans are consciously aware of our fragility, our finitude, our faults and our failings. It is a fearful thing to acknowledge. Most of us spend our lives running away from this stark reality by attempting to fill this hole in our soul with anything that promises to fulfill or fix us. The seventeenth century French philosopher, Blaise Paschal said it this way:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him … though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
But try as we might, we cannot fill this hole ourselves. Christmas is the proclamation that God spoke an eternal “yes” to us by slipping through the back door of history as a helpless baby, to grow up and live with us and for us, to prove once and for all that our fragility, faults and failings are not the last word. God is still renewing, redeeming and giving life to us – all of us, no exceptions. And that word that is communicated most clearly on the celebration of Jesus’ birth is “love.”
No matter what your life circumstances are this Christmas Eve, you are here to hear a word of grace and love: a love that you didn’t have to earn or prove yourself worthy to receive. God’s movement is toward us and for us in the birth of Jesus Christ.
This love is mystical, and it is the enduring and life-giving way to fill the hole in your soul. It comes to us through Word and Sacrament and is present through the community of beloved humanity that seeks to live out this love.
So come. Come to this Table. Come as you are. Come here today because God is here to meet you where you are and extend his love to you.