Christmas Eve (C)
December 24, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this evening’s sermon is the Christmas Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
The Christmas Eve candlelight service as always been one of my favorite services because it is so peaceful. The Christmas rush is finally over, and we have a chance to take a deep breath. The presents are wrapped, the cards are mailed, the stockings are hung by chimney with care…sorry, wrong story. But you know what I’m saying. Some of you have to travel tomorrow, nevertheless even if you have to go from one side of the family’s party to another’s it’s still a mostly relaxing time. I am guessing that most people don’t enjoy the Christmas rush and it’s a relief when it’s all over. Maybe you feel this way. Maybe you’re at the point in your life when you don’t worry about the Christmas rush at all. That’s okay too. Tonight, I want to suggest something you don’t hear very often. I encourage you to enjoy the Christmas rush!
Like all professions, shepherding has changed a little over the years. I’ve never seen a shepherd leaning on his staff when I’ve driven by that flock of sheep on the way to Auburn and I haven’t seen one guarding the flock with a rifle either. In the time of Jesus though things were different. Saint Luke says, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Shepherds had to keep a close eye on their flock because they never knew what dangers were crouching in the darkness waiting to snatch a lamb or a sheep when no one was looking. I suppose at night they’d be a little on edge too knowing that they could become prey for the lions, bears, and wolves that were prevalent at the time. Their lives were a mixture of boredom and excitement, times of trying to stay awake and of rushing to defend their sheep. Like any profession, they had a routine and knew what to expect.
It was a typical night when the angles burst in with an incredible message, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” If it wasn’t for the angels filling the sky, the shepherds might not believe what they were seeing and hearing. You couldn’t blame them if they chalked it up sleep deprivation or food poisoning.
But they did believe, and they rushed off to see this miracle baby, the Savior. Luke says that they went “with haste”. They didn’t dawdle, they didn’t drag their feet, they didn’t hem and haw while trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly, wolves weren’t their main concern. Just like that, their focus turned from protecting the sheep to running off and leaving them unguarded. Their animals were important, but there was no comparison to what they just heard.
Can you imagine their excitement? The shock of the angels, the race into Bethlehem to find the baby. Remember, Bethlehem was filled with people for the census, so picture the shepherds rushing through the streets searching for the one who was Christ the Lord. And when they found Jesus, they would’ve told the story of the angels with a rush of excitement. I’m sure they didn’t say, “Excuse us, Mary and Joseph, can we tell you what we saw?” I’ll bet they didn’t tiptoe around the baby either, how would you keep a story like this quiet? They’d be stumbling over each other in a rush to tell the story. People would be throwing questions at them from every direction as Luke says, “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” And after they had seen the Savior, they returned to their flocks still filled with the rush of adrenaline, glorifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard was just like the angel had said.
The rush towards Christmas typically starts with Black Friday shopping the day after Thanksgiving. It’s amazing how early bird specials and cheap televisions bring out the worst in people. There’s a steady rush of shoppers trying to get the best gifts at the best price. Many people, for good reason, stay home on Black Friday. But even if you stay home on Black Friday, there’s still the Christmas rush. We rush around trying to find just the right present for the person who has everything. What do our kids want? What would our grandchildren like? The Christmas rush is not a good thing.
The shame of all this is that we’ve exchanged one kind of rush for another. Instead of rushing to the store, we should be rushing to the manger. Instead of rushing around all day trying to find the right gift, we should be rushing to see the best Gift of all. Instead of rushing to get our cards mailed and the presents wrapped, we should be rushing to church to hear about the baby born for all in the city of David.
The shepherds didn’t hesitate to rush to see the baby. They heard God’s message of good news of great joy and they dropped everything! Is this our attitude? Do we leave everything behind to worship Him? Or do we hesitate so that we don’t “lose” what we want to guard. Are we so worried about the rush of Christmas that we forget the purpose of Christmas?
Instead of rushing to give and receive gifts we should be rushing to receive the gifts this baby gives us. The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” This Christ child was born to give you peace! Not peace in the middle of one hectic season a year. Not peace when confronted by the stress of shopping, backing, and mailing packages. He’s come to give you peace with God. The peace that comes from knowing that through His Son’s birth, and yes, death, He is pleased with you. It’s Christ the Lord! This isn’t just a title, it’s who He is and what He’s come to do. He came to be your Lord, to save you from your sins, to give you peace in this life and for the life to come.
We rush and rush to get things done when we should be rushing to tell the story of who this baby is and what He has done for us. We need to have the rush of excitement for our Lord and Savior as our kids do for their Christmas presents. Kids race down the stairs and around the tree because they can’t wait to see what they’ve been given. Let us rush to see what God has given to us! Let us rush out of here with the good news of great joy! Look at the shepherds! See how they’re telling everyone what they’ve seen? We too should be out there telling everyone about the baby, about the angels, about the peace that is for all people. Let us follow the lead of the shepherds as we return to our lives “glorifying and praising God for all [we] had heard and seen.”
What Jesus has done for us is a rush – a rush of forgiveness, a rush of peace, a rush of God’s love that cannot be topped by anything at any time from anyone. Christmas shopping and baking and all that other stuff makes the Christmas rush not so delightful. But Jesus? The Savior who is Christ the Lord? He is worth all our attention as we leave everything else behind. Enjoy the Christmas rush to see Him, worship Him, and adore Him, because He has come for you.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen