Nothing New to Say: A homily for Christmas Eve, 2017

So, I’ll let you in on a little minster’s secret: the Christmas Eve sermon is one of our least favorites of the entire year.

Here’s why. It’s not because we don’t love the season. Most of us truly do. And it’s not because we have to write a long sermon. Usually these are pretty short.

Instead, it’s this: we’re worried you’ve heard everything we are going to say before.

That’s true for me. I preach about fifty sermons a year, and this is the one where every year I’m left wracking my brain. I want to say something meaningful about Christmas. I want to say something so profound and to tell the story to you in some sort of new way, and make it real.

But the reality is this: I can look back at every Christmas sermon I’ve ever preached, and I can summarize them all in three don’ts:

1. Don’t be like the innkeeper. When the love of God comes to your front door, don’t say there’s no room at the inn.

2. Don’t limit Christmas to one day a year, or even one season. Make Christmas a year round affair.

3. Don’t extinguish the light. Christmas is about the light of Christ coming into this world. Each of us has the choice to let that light of God’s love burn brightly within us for the year, or to put out the flame.

IMG_7664So, that’s it…those are all the Christmas sermons I’ve ever preached boiled down to three lines. And I really don’t have a lot to add, because that’s everything I want to say about Christmas. That’s why this is one of the hardest sermons to preach all year. Nothing changes, and there’s nothing new to say.

But maybe…maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s the good news. Because maybe the fact that the story never changes, no matter what, means that there is hope for this world.

According to a highly scientific source, my Facebook feed, 2017 wasn’t a great year for a lot of people. There’s a lot of sadness, a lot of anger, a lot of misunderstanding. And I keep hearing people say that they can’t wait for this year to be over.

I’ve been thinking about that this Advent. In Advent we concentrate on four main themes here in the church: hope, peace, joy, and love.

But, I think about hope, and I think about the high school students I work with at a local school, and how they aren’t that optimistic about the future.

And I think about peace, and I think about the saber rattling between nations that we see, and how we may be closer to nuclear war than we’ve been in nearly fifty years.

I think about joy, and I think about how hard it has felt for so many to find joy this year.

And I think about love, and I think about young men marching on Charlottesville this summer, shouting racist and anti-semitic slurs, and I think about how far we have to go when it comes to loving our neighbors.

And in the face of all of this, the same words preached here last year, and the year before that, and all the years before that, by all the preachers this pulpit has seen, still apply. That might be boring…or it might be the greatest news you could receive.

Two thousand years ago God looked down into a broken world and, despite the mess that people had made of it, God loved them anyway. And on this night we celebrate that love coming into the world, not as a conquering army, but as a little baby, a new life, that would change everything.

Two thousand years later, we still mess up this world. But two thousand years later, the story is still the same. God still loves us. God still chooses to come into this world. God still gives us light that is bright enough to overcome any darkness.

And each Christmas, God also gives us a choice…how are we going to respond to that love?

I go back to those three “don’ts”, and I think of a few “do’s”. And so, don’t be the innkeeper, shutting God’s love out. Instead, open the door of your heart wide, and say that there is room at the inn.

And don’t let the joy and kindness of Christmas be a once a year event . Instead, know that how we treat one another, on July 25th says a whole lot more about how well we really keep Christmas than who we are on December 25th.

And, finally, don’t extinguish the light that you have been given. Instead, tend to it. Fuel it. Let it burn so brightly within you that others can see it and find hope in it. Because this world needs a little light a little hope right now.

My prayer for you, my prayer for the world thus Christmas, is that Christ’s light will shine so brightly in all of us this year that this world will be just a little better for it next December 24th. To be a Christian, to believe that something special happened on this night, is to choose to live in hope, and to pass that hope on to those who need it the most.

I believe in hope because I believe that God loved us 2000 years ago on a night in Bethlehem, and I believe God loves us even still.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with a spoiler alert: the words you’ve heard from me tonight are probably pretty close to the words you’ll hear from me next year. But rest assured, they’ll still apply. Every year, they’ll still apply. And that is very good news indeed.

The Light: Homily for Christmas Eve 2014

John 1:1-5

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

10885152_10100748574687168_7267670351363878850_nThere’s a joke that you can tell how long a minister is going to preach by what is written in the bulletin. If you look down and see “sermon” printed there, you know it’s going to be a while. But sometimes you see the word“homily”. I joke that homily is Latin for “really short sermon”, and it means I won’t be talking long.

You all just checked your bulletins, didn’t you…don’t worry, it’s okay. If you didn’t, it says “homily”. I’m not going to preach long this evening because my sense is that you already know this story, or else you probably wouldn’t be here. And usually the role of the preacher is to retell the story in some way and make it relevant to your life today, but I’m going to guess that more than perhaps any other story in the Bible, we all know how this one goes.

There’s Mary, and the angel, and the most unexpected of births. There’s the trip to Bethlehem, and no room in the inn. And there’s the stable, and the manger that stands in for the crib. And finally, the shepherds, who come because the one they have been waiting for has finally been born.

We know this story. Even Linus tells it at the end of a Charlie Brown Christmas, and I know I can’t beat Linus when it comes to telling this story.

And so, I’m not going to tell you the Christmas story of what happened two thousand years ago tonight. I’m not going to tell it to you because I’m going to ask you to tell it instead. And I’m going to ask you to tell it not just tonight, but tomorrow, and through all twelve days of Christmas, and then every day from then on until we arrive here again at the manger next Christmas Eve.

But first, we just heard five different lessons from Scripture. The first four were from that familiar Christmas story that we all know. But the fifth was from the Gospel of John, and it’s a passage that is traditionally read on Christmas eve. And at first it might even seem a little out of place with the rest of the story. But listen to it again:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

That light that they’re talking about there is more than just a candle or a bulb or even a star. That light is Jesus Christ, the light that comes to shine in the darkness. And as wonderful as the story of the nativity is, with the shepherds and angels and manger, that light is the truly good news of Christmas.

And it’s good news not just for 2000 years ago, but for today. Because the reality is that this is a world that is often not what it should be. There is too much war. Too much poverty. Too much injustice. And too much pain. And there is too little hope. Too little peace. Too little joy. And too little love.

You and I, we know what it is like to live with the reality of darkness. Because we are human. And yet, because of Christmas, because of the very choice God made to send hope into this world in the form of a newborn baby, we also know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Christmas is about the light overcoming the darkness. It’s about a birth 2000 years ago, but it’s about so much more than that. Because Christmas isn’t just about what happened back then. It’s also about the ways God is still choosing to come into our world. And, perhaps most amazing of all, it’s about us too.

And that’s because Christmas is a story of choices, good and bad. It’s Mary saying “my soul magnifies the Lord” when the angel tells her she is pregnant. But it’s also the innkeeper shutting the door on Mary and Joseph, and saying that there’s no room in the inn.

And it’s about our choices too. Because we each have a choice about how we are going to respond to the story of Christmas. We can leave here tonight, our hearts unchanged, and we can forget this story until next Christmas eve.

Or, we can make another choice. We can choose to be a part of the Christmas story. And we can choose to live as reflections of this light that has been sent to shine in the darkness.

My hope is that you will choose the latter. And my hope is that you will choose to tell the story of Christmas with your lives, not just tonight, but long after the tree is taken down, and the presents are opened.

It’s no coincidence that on Christmas eve we symbolize our joy and hope by lighting candles. We are, after all, celebrating the light of the world. And so in just a few minutes we are going to be lighting our Christmas candles by passing the flame of the Christ Candle that we lit tonight. And as that light spreads throughout the sanctuary, we will end with Silent Night, and as we sing the last verse we will lift our candles into the air.

And so tonight, when you lift up your small part of the light of Christ, let it be more than just going through the motions. This year, as you lift your light, make a promise to yourself that you will lift that light all year long, and that you will be a part of the Christmas story. And make a promise to the world that you will use your life to spread a light that will shine with joy and hope and love and peace in the places that need it the most.

If you do that, then you will truly understand the meaning of Christmas. And the light of Christ will shine just a little brighter in this world because of you. Amen.