I love Christmas Eve. It is my favorite night of the year. I look forward to it all year long—almost from the moment it ends. I look out over all of you here tonight and I sense that this time is special for you as well. For many of us, it’s the first peaceful moment we’ve had in the past four weeks at least. But now, we come together with family and as family and we settle back in the pews and there’s almost a collective sigh of peacefulness. The quiet peacefulness; that’s what it is, isn’t it. The quiet peacefulness. Silent night, Holy night. The images we treasure in our hearts. Images of a young couple and a new born baby, shepherds in the fields, sheep gathered into a quiet flock. It’s all about he peaceful quiet. You just want to breathe in the quiet peace that comes to you on this Holy night.
But now, hear the Angel proclaiming in the heavens:
“Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
which will be to all the people.
For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David,
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
This is the sign to you:
you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth,
lying in a feeding trough” (2:10-12).
Hear the angel choir singing praises:
“Glory to God in the highest,
on earth peace, good will toward men” (2:14).
Our peaceful, quiet night has just been shattered by the most incredible proclamation of all time. Our lives and the lives of all people in all times will never be the same. That proclamation is the fulfillment of the most incredible prophecy of all time. Isaiah said to us:
“For to us a child is born.
To us a son is given;
and the government will be on his shoulders.
His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end,
on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to establish it,
and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from that time on, even forever.
The zeal of Yahweh of Armies will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
We should be sitting bolt upright. We should be astounded. We should be thunderstruck. Tonight we celebrate the night of nights; the most wonderful night in all of history. God . . . God has come down from highest heaven and has taken on human form to be among us. God is no longer some distant, heavenly deity who judges us from afar. EMMANU’EL. That’s not a name! That’s a proclamation. EMMANU’EL!! GOD. . . IS . . . . WITH . . . US! God is with us—yesterday, today, and forever more!
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What God set in motion on that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago can never be stopped. God set in motion the eternal salvation of all of creation, and it can not be stopped by any power in creation. That’s the good news that I want you to hold in your hearts tonight. That’s the good news I want you to take from here tonight. But I also want you to keep in mind that Christmas is just the beginning. What begins tonight in a stable in Bethlehem, will only be fully accomplished on a hill outside of Jerusalem. You must keep that in your hearts as well. Because it’s the wonder of it all, and we just can’t fathom it.
It’s the wonder that is just so amazing. It’s the wonder of what happens in Bethlehem and it’s the wonder of what happens in Jerusalem. It’s the wonder of God coming to us—not us going to God, but God coming to us—in the most unexpected of ways. God comes to us as a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger—because there was no room for him anyplace else.
Think about that! There was no room for him, my brothers and sisters! We talk about it every Christmas. We picture it on Christmas Cards. We sing about it in Christmas Carols. But do we really think about it? There was no room for him. His mother—his young, teen-aged, unwed mother—gave birth to him in a stable, and his crib was the box full of hay from which some animal ate its meals. Imagine the surprise that cow or that sheep or that donkey must have felt when it went to get its evening meal. It wanders over to eat and finds a baby lying in its food. Imagine how surprised that poor, hungry animal must have been.
Well, we should be just as surprised! Every single Christmas we should be just as surprised. But we’re not. We know the story. We know all about the census and the crowded town of Bethlehem and the stable and the shepherds and the angels, and we take it all in stride. But we should be surprised. This is not how kings are supposed to come into the world. Kings are supposed to be born in palaces surrounded by adoring subjects who celebrate the birth of an heir to the throne. But the king of all creation comes into the world . . . surrounded by farm animals. Why are we NOT surprised?
You know what does surprise me? I’m continually surprised by how some people just don’t understand what Christmas is all about. Now, having said that, I’m sure some or most of you are expecting me to go on some diatribe about the commercialism of Christmas . . . well, SURPRISE! I’m not. I don’t care about the commercialism of Christmas. I don’t care because God comes to us in surprising ways. And if God wanted to, God could use the commercialism of Christmas to spread the good news. If God can use a stable, then what makes anybody think that God can’t use Walmart or Boscovs or K-Mart or Kohls?
No, when I say that I’m surprised by how some people just don’t understand what Christmas is all about, I’m talking about those who think that Christmas is a beautiful story told with softly lit images and glorious music . . . a beautiful story about something that took place 2,000 years ago and so has little relevance in the 21st century. After all, how can we relate to something that certainly couldn’t happen to any one of us? How can we relate to Angels appearing in the sky and announcing the birth of a baby in a stable? How can we relate to a baby born in a stable?
But, my dear brothers and sisters, that’s just the point. We can’t relate. We can’t understand. SURPRISE!! God has done what was least expected—that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s not about angels. And it’s not about shepherds in the fields. Those images are simply the way that God gets our attention. It’s about a baby in a manger. Christmas is about God pulling off the greatest surprise in all of history.
Could God have sent his son to be born in a palace? Sure—no problem. Could God have chosen a princess to be the mother of the king of all creation? Sure—no problem at all. But God didn’t choose to work that way. God chose to come to us in poverty and in simplicity and in humility and in helplessness. And I’ve got another surprise for you. God continues to come to us in the crushing poverty that so many in our world experience every day of their lives. God continues to come to us in the simplicity of a Salvation Army worker standing outside of a store ringing a bell. God continues to come to us in the humility of a homeless person sleeping in an alley in the bitter cold. And God continues to come to us in the helplessness of a hungry and fearful child crying out in the night. That’s what Christmas is all about; it’s about God coming to us in the most unexpected and surprising ways.
But why did God come to us as that helpless baby in the stable? Why didn’t God just come in majesty and power for all to see? Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph because God knew that in order to save us from our sin, Jesus had to know what it was like to be one of us. That’s the most wonderful and surprising part of Christmas. Jesus claims us by being one of us. Jesus knows what we feel and how we hurt and what we fear. He knows all of our insecurities and all of our pains and all of our sufferings. But he also knows all of our joys and our happiness and our laughter. He knows these things because he lived these things. That’s what Christmas is all about; Jesus coming to us not as God, but as one of us.
Most certainly Jesus is fully divine—he is God—but when he came to us on that night in Bethlehem, he came to us fully human as well. And that made all the difference for all of eternity.
That’s what makes our God so marvelously different from all the gods of mythology. Sure, if you read the Greek and Roman myths, you’ll read about the gods coming down to earth and pretending to be human, but that’s the difference; they were pretending to be human. Our God, the God of all creation wasn’t pretending. Jesus wasn’t just pretending to be one of us. Jesus really was one of us. That was the only way we could be saved. Jesus had to experience every possible emotion, pain, and joy that we experience. That’s what Christmas is all about.
Jesus will come again, and he will come in glory this time. There will be no stable and no manger. He will come as the King of Glory and he will rule over both his heavenly kingdom and his earthly kingdom. When that will happen, we have no way of knowing––and don’t let anyone tell you that they do know; that they’ve somehow figured it out, because they have no way of knowing what only God knows.
But God does still come to us in simple, humble, and surprising ways. God comes to us tonight.
“I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people.
For there is born to you, this day, IN YOUR HEARTS,
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:10-11).
This night . . . this Christmas . . . every Christmas . . . the savior—the Messiah, the LORD—is born anew in your hearts, in each every one of your hearts. Your body is a stable and your heart is the manger.
That’s what Christmas is all about my friends. Jesus Christ comes to us once again in the most surprising of ways. EMMANU’EL! GOD IS WITH YOU!
Let us pray.
May the love of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; God incarnate, our savior and our redeemer. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible
Copyright 2010, Daniel W. Brettell. Used by permission.