A Christmas Eve message based on the birth narrative of Luke 2.
It was a normal day, this past Thursday. With a weekend message to prepare I do what I always do, and headed out to a local eatery. With a pile of reference materials, and laptop in hand, I settled in to write. Being out amongst the hustle and bustle of food and commerce, the essence of life for many of us, well it tends to get my creative juices flowing. This is my routine. This is what I do. It’s how these messages come to be. And like clockwork it works almost flawlessly.
But this time, much to my chagrin, for some reason the magic wasn’t there. I found myself reading the same notes, again and again, making notations, but still landing short of inspiration. Oh dear, I thought to myself, perhaps this day isn’t going to go as planned. Writer’s block is the worst.
As I sit there I realize I’m also feeling rather run-down too. I’ve been getting over a cold the past few days, and in the afternoons it feels like there isn’t enough energy to make it through the day. With this sermon going nowhere and energy levels running low – winter colds are the worst too – I opted to head home and lay down for a nap. Things were not working out as planned. This made me more than a little anxious.
It was a normal night, two millennia ago, for those shepherds we hear of in today’s text. They were doing what they always do, living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. I like to think they too have a certain way of doing things. Move the herd at 9pm, meal break at midnight, shift change at 3am, or something like that. When they woke up that day I’d guess they had a pretty good idea of what their day, and their night would look like. This is their routine. This is what they do. It’s how their flock gets cared for. And like clockwork I bet their routine, for the most part, worked pretty well for them.
But then, in the middle of all that normalcy, all that standard routine, something unexpected happens.
An angel appears, and proclaims to them good news of great joy. The angel tells them of the Messiah, now born, lying in a manger. And the angel makes this news pretty specific:
I am bringing *you* good news.
This day the Messiah to *you* is born.
This will be a sign for *you*
In the midst of all this good news, delivered by spoken word, the lone angel is now joined by a multitude of angels, who burst out in song. “Glory to God in the highest,” they proclaim, “and peace on earth.” Peace on earth for who? With all this news being for *you* it must have been, in that moment, for that audience, meant for those shepherds.
We’ve got some great music tonite, Christmas Eve is about as good as it gets, but imagine the heavens filled with an angelic choir praising God, heralding peace on earth. Apologies choir, and apologies musicians, but I think that angelic choir has our number, the splendor that must have been. And the prophetic angel definitely has my number in the preaching department 😊 But just imagine, try and put yourself there, as a shepherd, having your normal routine suddenly interrupted by such splendor.
Shepherds go, tell
We’re told that when the shepherds had their normal night interrupted so grandly, by angels and heavenly choirs and celestial proclamations, well, it made them more than a little anxious. In fact it terrified them. Picture yourself, sitting at your office desk, or on your couch watching tv and having all this happen right before your eyes. I’d be terrified too.
After the angels departed the shepherds huddled up and decided to go, to see this child in a manger. But there must have been more to it than that. Their normal day was now anything but, and well, it terrified them.
I wonder, what did they do with their flock? Did they bring them, or make other arrangements? Did they bring family, or leave them behind? Scripture doesn’t specify. We do know they went, leaving their routine, leaving their sense of normal, leaving behind their own earthly todo lists, all in search of something more. The angels promised peace.
Peace. Perhaps peace is what they journeyed for.
The shepherds then went, and found what they’d been looking for: the child in the manger, the Prince of Peace. They praised this Prince of Peace, giving glory to God in the highest. And they shared what they’d seen, and what they’d heard, and all who heard it were amazed.
“I bring *you* good news,” the Shepherds would say.
The Messiah to *you* is born.
This is a sign for *you*
Peace on earth, this Christ-child brings.
For who, the people would ask the shepherds? For *you*
So whatever happened to my failed attempt to write this message the first time? After dropping my writing routine and heading home for a good long nap in front of a warm fire my mood began to shift. My body, still recovering from that winter cold, felt stronger. Kathi and the kids came in and the four of us laughed and played and were generally silly and it just seemed so right.
I found myself asking my wife after dinner to snuggle up on the couch and watch a Christmas movie. As we settled in to watch the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street it started to snow outside, and it was wonderful.
The next morning, my daughter, seeing her first Iowan snowfall, excitedly asked dad to go outside for our inaugural snowball fight. We somehow found a way to make tiny balls of snow from the half-inch overnight dusting, and laughed and giggled at targets being hit and missed. After that my toddler son and I took a boys-only road trip, he could use a haircut and we could use a breakfast. Haircut now done I then watched my four-year old order a pancake as big as his head. He made it through half that pancake too; I could only smile.
It was then, after taking some time to heal up from that winter cold and spending time with the family just being present that I realized what this change in routine had yielded. It had brought peace. And it was then the dreaded writers block began to be released.
So often we find ourselves caught up in the busy-ness of our jobs, our check lists, our routines. Being sick disrupted my routine, those angels, well they certainly were a disruption for the shepherds. But in both cases, when we were open to those disruptions good came from it.
Yet we define ourselves by our successes and failures in very practical, earthly ways. I have my stories, you certainly have yours, it’s part of our human condition. We barely have time to breathe it seems, let alone make room for the divine presence all around us. But that’s what Christmas Eve is, it prepares us for God’s coming into the world, through Christ, right in the middle of daily life.
We may never have the chance, at least in this lifetime, to experience a chorus of angels singing to the heavens as the shepherds did; tho I certainly look forward to that in the life to come. But as the shepherds were, we too are offered, in so many times and so many ways, the chance to break routine, to journey to the manger, to meet Christ in the flesh.
- We journey to the manger though family, cuddling on the couch, throwing snowballs, eating huge pancakes with the kids.
- We journey to the manger when we walk alongside the lonely, doing those same things for those with no family.
- We journey to the manger when we show hospitality to the stranger, regardless of their race, creed, or national origin.
- We journey to the manger when we clothe the poor, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and house those without.
For when we journey to the manger, we model the angels, and model the shepherds, and proclaim to others, both in word and deed:
“I bring *you* good news.”
The Messiah to *you* is born.
This is a sign, for *you*
We’re really pretty good at making room for the Christ-child on December 25. Preparations have been made, gifts purchased, jobs, schools and stores all closed. We can just be, and celebrate God come to earth, we make room for it, it’s on the calendar, and that’s a beautiful thing.
But the rest of the year, well, that’s a little trickier. Let me encourage you, all year long, to travel to the manger, in word and deed, with every step you take. For it is in the doing, and in the saying, and in the bringing of good news to others, it is *there* where we finally find our peace. Amen.