Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2011

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Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2011 December 24, 2011 The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord Luke 2:1-20

 

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2011

Sermon Date:December 24, 2011

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Liturgy Calendar: The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord


On Wednesday night I went to visit an old friend of mine who because of a series of strokes has lost his ability to walk.  He has spent the last several months in the rehab units of area nursing homes. 

I hadn’t seen him for several weeks, and I was heartbroken to find that he is continuing to slip away, in spite of his determination to improve and to return to some semblance of a normal life.

We sat and talked about old times.  We talked about Christmases past that we had shared at church.  He wanted to know all about what our Christmas service would be like here at St Peter’s. 

My friend told me that his favorite Christmas hymn was the one with “in excelsis deo” in it.   And so we just started singing, right there in the nursing home, and we sang “Angels we have heard on high,”  with all those glorias. 

And then I told him about how at this very service Helmut will sing Silent Night in German and then we’ll all sing it in English.  My friend and I sang the first two measures of Silent Night in German, and then laughed at each other because we didn’t know the rest.

Before I left, my friend said, “I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t be home for Christmas.  My wife will get here to see me that day, but not until afternoon.  But you know, Christmas comes, no matter where you are.”   

My friend, fading away in a nursing home in a town far away from home,  laughed with joy.  His face literally lit up, as he said again, “Christmas comes, no matter where you are." 

 

German and English Troops in the Christmas Truce

Christmas does come to each and every one of us right smack dab in the midst of our daily lives and work, as Christmas came during World War I to the British and German troops in 1914.

These troops lived and died in a 475 mile network of trenches, separated by a no man’s land so narrow that each side could hear conversations taking place on the other side. 

It was under the awful conditions of the wintery and death dealing life in these trenches that the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 took place.  In a letter home to England, Rifleman Ernest Morley, 16th Battalion, London Regiment, described the beginning of the truce.

“We had decided to give the Germans a Christmas present of three carols &  5 rounds rapid.  Accordingly as soon as night fell we started and the strains of “White Shepherds” (beautifully rendered by the choir) arose upon the air.  We finished that and paused preparatory to giving the 2nd item on the programme.  But lo!  We heard answering strains arising from their lines.  Also they started shouting across to us.  Therefore we stopped any hostile operations and commenced to shout back.  One of them shouted “A Merry Christmas English.  We’re not shooting tonight.”  We yelled back a similar message….” 

As the fighting ceased, lights appeared along the front as the soldiers took all the candles they had  and stuck them on their bayonets and placed them along  the parapets of the trenches.  Morley wrote home that the two lines looked like an illuminated fete, or elaborate outdoor party. 

On Christmas Day, the soldiers on both sides refrained from fighting.  Each side retrieved and buried their corpses.  German soldiers got out of the trenches and as Morley reported,

“We went out and met them & had the curious pleasure of chatting with the men who had been doing their best to kill us, & we them. “

The enemies exchanged gifts, and played makeshift games of ball.  In some areas along the front,  not a shot was fired with the intent to kill between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. 

Christmas will come, year after year, over and over to the trenches in which  we find ourselves,  right in the middle of our mundane lives, no matter where we are–just as the angels came to the shepherds.

Christmas came to the shepherds, right where they were, going about their lives, watching over their flocks.

The angels brought the shepherds a message straight from God—

“Fear not, for BEHOLD, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord!”

The message of the angels is the one that my friend heard all over again, lying in bed in the nursing home.

 “Good tidings of great joy, for all people—for unto you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”—a message that is bringing him joy in a desolate time in his life. 

The message of the angels is the one that British and German soldiers heard in their dark death filled trenches.  “Good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people—for unto you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”—a message that brought those soldiers life and peace and reconciliation with their enemies for an interval before they had to return to the work of resolving injustice and establishing peace by continuing  a war.

And so the angels come to each one of us tonight, just as they came to the shepherds.

The angels come to you, and to me! 

“Fear not, for BEHOLD!  I bring you good tidings of great joy for all people—for unto you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The Christmas story is God’s dream for this world. And when we hear these angels sing, we can treat their song  merely as a beautiful dream, or we can enter into this dream and find that it is a reality in our lives. 

We can go, as the shepherds did, to see this thing which has come to pass,

And if we choose to go, we will find our Lord and Savior, who was present at the beginning of creation, lying in a manger as a helpless infant  at the beginning of his life,

We will find our Lord and Savior, the One who will grow up to live and die as the Good Shepherd who tends  his flock,  the Good Shepherd who preaches the good news, the Good Shepherd who stands up for the victims of hunger, fear, injustice and oppression, the Good Shepherd  who cares for the sick, the friendless, and the needy. 

When Christmas comes to us, no matter where we are, we can choose to enter into this dream that God has for a transformed world.

Our Savior came to show us how to be like him, how to be shepherds of the sheep, how to work for justice, freedom and peace,  and how  to care for the least of these in the particular fields in which God has placed each one of us. 

So tonight, Christmas has come to us right where we are. 

The angels bring us good tidings of great joy,

The shepherds of so long ago remind us to go with haste, and to see these things that continue to come to pass.

The shepherds are a witness to us–

To take the good news of Christmas back to wherever we live and move and have our being, no matter where we are–

To glorify and to praise God for all we have heard and seen,

To be filled with God’s light and joy as we grow into the good shepherds that God calls us to be.

Christmas comes to us eternally, wherever we are, inviting us to be a part of God’s dream for a new heaven and a new earth, here and now, in this time and in this place. 

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Glory to God in the Highest.

 

Amen. 

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