Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20
Advent 4 falls on Christmas Eve this year and choices have no doubt been made about how many worship services to have when, whether to emphasize Advent in the morning and Christmas Eve later in the day, which hymns to sing (or not sing!) and so much more.
Crafting the sermon may be one of the last items left on the to do list for this Sunday. Of course, there is the question: one sermon or two? Either way, I would argue for an emphasis on joy, awe and wonder. Yes, the world still rages with violence, suffering and upheaval; but for this day, focus on the inbreaking of the holy, the angels’ songs, the shepherds’ surprise and response, Mary’s heart ponderings. The problems of this realm won’t disappear, but perhaps going to the manger to worship and departing the sanctuary praising God will enable us to re-enter life with renewed hope and resilience.
Advent 4 falling on Christmas Eve provides the opportunity to remind those gathered that waiting does not last forever. Just days after the darkest day of the year, the light of Christ overwhelms us in the middle of whatever fields we labor. If the warring factions of WWI could pause and remember their humanity and that of their enemies, surely we, too, can take a break from whatever anger, divisions and ugliness consume us on Christmas Eve. I discovered this quote about the Christmas Truce of 1914: “On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.”
I found it moving that the truce was initiated by the soldiers in the trenches. Those most impacted and closest to the horrific realities of war recognized, at least briefly, a reality bigger than war and its causes. Shouldn’t we also recognize that the birth of Jesus is bigger than whatever rancor consumes us, our communities, our churches, our world?
The incarnation, God becoming human for our sakes, should compel us to see the humanity in others. The incarnation, the fully divine becoming fully human, should enable us to see the image of God in everyone. This Advent 4/Christmas Eve, could we take a break, call a truce, hit pause on the barrage of negativity and bask in the Good News of the Messiah’s birth?
Hearing repeatedly, and rightly, that we live in a broken world colors the way we see everything and everyone around us. Yes, we are fallen, broken, sinful – but have we forgotten that the Messiah has come to save? The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. Walked in darkness. Past tense. God has increased our joy. People rejoice. The shepherds glorify and praise God. All who heard what the shepherds relayed were amazed. Lost in wonder, joy and praise. How about a little of that this Advent 4/Christmas Eve?
I run with a small group of women several mornings a week. We meet before dawn and this time of year we end just as the sun comes up. I do not relish the early, cold wake-up call. I delight, though, in seeing the sky turn orange and the geese landing on the pond and, this month, in the Christmas lights guiding us on our way. But more than the unveiling of creation and the festive twinkling on trees and homes, I praise God for the company of these women. We are an eclectic crew, brought together only because we want to run at what some would call an ungodly hour and we need to be held accountable. We need to know people are waiting for us, or we would hit “snooze” and go back to sleep. To pass the time and make the experience pleasant, we talk. The others are all varieties of Christians on the spectrum from active in their churches to lapsed attenders, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian. I can’t think of many who’ve taught me more about living faith daily than these women.
One of my early morning companions sings in her church choir, helps care for her mother who has cancer and just maxed out her credit card to help keep a family member from being evicted. She prayed with a group at church about this soon-to-lose-her-house family member and she told me as we huffed and puffed up a hill, “I realized God was telling me to be the help I was asking God to give.” Another woman, a 70-year-old who just ran a half-marathon and runs circles around me (even though she’s not even five feet tall and I am 5’10”), cares for her 92-year-old aunt. Her aunt lives with her and before that, her mother lived with her until her death. This woman sees God everywhere. She is the definition of what it is to be lost in wonder, joy and praise. She runs circles around me spiritually as well as physically. Pennies on the ground are reminders to her of God’s presence and provision. A shooting star she sees as reassurance of God’s protection. She takes pictures of the hearts she sees in leaves, rocks, shells and nuts broken apart by creature or nature. She lives this sentiment of Brother David Steindl-Rast: “Our eyes are opened to that surprise character of the world around us the moment we wake up from taking things for granted” (from “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer”).
This morning she showed me three photos, one of an acorn, another of a shell and the third of a rock. “What do you see?” she asked, expectantly. I struggled with the first one. “A heart?” I muttered. She looked, “Where?” I pointed to the outline that resembled a heart (a Salvador Dali heart, but a heart nonetheless). “Oh, yes! I see. I saw an angel.” She outlines it with her finger. Then I saw it, too. The second one was a heart, as symmetrical as any found on a Valentine’s Day card, right there, inside an acorn. The third showed a rock that somehow had the impression of what appeared to be a butterfly. “Amazing, right?” she asked as she beamed. Amazing, I thought. Amazing that you see signs of God’s presence, goodness, promise, beauty and love everywhere.
On Advent 4/Christmas Eve, our call is to help others see hearts, stars, angels and our divine-infused world that often seems bereft of light and love everywhere. Call a truce on fear, enmity and violence. Revel in the Good News of great joy for all people. Heed the choir of the heavenly host. Go and worship the Messiah and leave glorifying and praising God for all that you have seen and heard. And then live out all that has been told to you, every day, trusting that others will meet you in the darkest hour before the dawn, keep you accountable and help you on the way.
- When are you aware of God’s presence? Do you see signs of the divine in the midst of the mundane?
- What do you need to leave in order to go and worship the Christ child?
- Why do we need to both recognize the brokenness of the world and its God-proclaimed goodness?
- For what are you praising and glorifying God this Advent and Christmas?
- Pay attention this week to signs of God’s love, beauty and goodness. Do you notice any hearts, angels or stars?
- What is it that God is doing in your life that you are pondering in your heart?
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