December 24, 2021 Christmas Eve

December 24, 2021- Christmas Eve
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

From St. Paul’s letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…” I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

     A very Merry Christmas to you all! I find it fitting that many Christmas celebrations begin at night, begin in the midst of darkness, because, at night, with millions of Christians throughout the world, we gather to recall and celebrate a night long ago: a night when angel hosts proclaimed, “Do not be afraid … For unto you and to all people a Child is born, a Son is given.” As St. Paul said in his letter to Titus, on this night, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

    History tells us that in the midst of growing tyranny by the occupying armies of Rome, and the increasing paranoia of King Herod, a child was born. That night long ago was very much like tonight. People worried about their future then, just as many people today worry about their future health, welfare, safety, and security, and not just for themselves, but for all whom they hold dear. No wonder so many of us will try to make this Christmas more meaningful than any other because we simply don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So, we buy gifts, and we party and feast, and that really is quite wonderful. And yet, we can get so caught up in “doing” Christmas that we forget its true meaning; forget that on this night over two thousand years ago, “the grace of God … appeared, bringing salvation to all.” It is easy to forget during times of trouble and uncertainty that the Christian faith, our faith, is marked by hope: hope for peace and goodwill among all people. Hope for a restored sense of wholeness and dignity. In the midst of our planning and doing, it is easy to forget that Christmas can and will always transform the world if and when, in the words of that old carol, “we open our hearts and let our hearts become a manger for Christ’s birth” and then go forth resolved to carry Christ’s light, and to seek and serve him in every person we meet.

     Our scripture lessons this evening speak of the birth of the Christ, as foretold by the prophets, as a day for rejoicing, song, and feasting for God himself comes to dwell among us, as one with us, and restore us to peace with our families, neighbors, strangers, and enemies, and above all, peace with God. Isaiah says the Christ comes as a great light shining upon all who are oppressed by the darkness of this world. Whether that darkness is physical or spiritual, the light of God can split that darkness and show us the way forward, if we will choose to see God’s light, welcome it, and follow that light. St. Paul says God’s light, this Christ, this grace of God appearing in our midst, “redeems us from all iniquity,” from all sin, and it only asks of us that we not only choose to see it, welcome it, and follow it, but embrace it.

And our reading from the Gospel according to Luke tells us that this Jesus whom Isaiah described as mighty God, wonderful counselor, everlasting Father, and prince of peace, came to us not as a warrior king with an army as expected, but as a baby born in a stable, utterly vulnerable, and dependent upon Mary and Joseph’s care and protection. Remarkably, the first people to greet this prince of peace, this Jesus, were not the elite of society, nor royalty, or celebrities. No, Jesus was greeted by simple shepherds who found this King of Kings wrapped not in silk as so many works of art portray him, but in rags, and lying in a feeding trough. God was born in God’s chosen way: and he came when and where and how the world least expected him. And, beloved, the Christmas message tells us that God still comes to us today, just as he will come tomorrow and the next day. God still desires to be born in us, but that choice is ours to make.

   The truth and miracle of Christmas is that God’s grace continues to bring salvation. Christ’s light continues to split the darkness of hearts that welcome, embrace, and follow him. So I find that my prayer on this Christmas Eve, in the midst of the world’s gathering storms of religious, political, and social upheaval, is simply this: that our hearts will, indeed, become a manager so that the Christ can and will be born again in us. Born to again transform our priorities so that we truly embrace and embody God’s values and ways, and come to love God and neighbor as deeply and as compassionately and without condition or exception as God, in Christ, has loved and continues to love us.

    Friends, “The grace of God has appeared…” and its name is Jesus Christ who brings salvation to all people. So, come, let us open our hearts to him, adore him, welcome him, embrace him, and follow him, and resolve to go forth to bring and be his light in this world  - tonight and always. Amen.