The recording is the full lessons and carol service. The sermon though I believe is a good one for this year of many changes. A Christmas Eve reflection on the roll of memory, ritual and God’s repeated announcements of his grace. Merry Christmas. Time to get home to the kids.
This is our Christmas Eve service which is largely lessons and carols. The sermon starts about 25 mins. Did you come for nostalgia, or did you come to worship? Nostalgia is a brittle thing. The incarnation, Christmas? Not so. Still the newest thing on this old earth. Worthy of worship.
Our Christmas Eve service is the popular lessons and carols. I’ve included almost all of it in the recording, so the sermon part is about 30 mins in. That part encourages us to think about the parts of Christmas we hear most keenly. Do we hear the cultural detritus that is now passing away, or do we hear the evermore and evermore?
Biblical Text: Luke 2:1-14
Full Sermon Draft
Christmas eve evening is mostly about the people and the candles, the sights and sounds together. But after 10 years I finally hit a message that I felt was worthy of the night. I’ll say and post that now before tomorrow erases the feeling.
It always helps having both a wonderful opening hymn (Hark the Herald Angels Sing) and a fantastic liturgical piece by the choir (The Magnificat – Vespers Chant). Both are left in.
The recording for this night just didn’t turn out. The sermon conceit is a challenge: write the great Christmas hymn from the shepherds’ story. Unlike with the Angels or Mary and the Wise Men or even the night or the town, that song about the Shepherds that everyone has first doesn’t exist. What would it have to include to capture the shepherds tale of the incarnation. Take a read to see.
Instead of the recording, I did take some pictures of the place before everyone arrived. Nobody every believes me when I talk about the quality of the light in St. Mark’s sanctuary at night. These snaps capture the warm yellow glow of it.
Biblical Text: Luke 2:8-20
The format was lessons and carols, so the main part of the service, singing all the great carols reflecting on the lessons, isn’t on the recording. But, this is the first Christmas Eve sermon in eight years that I’ve felt solidly good about. So, if you are ok with a single lesson and a homily for Christmas Eve, give this a listen. I think it comes close to the strangeness, the holiness, of the night.
And you can still come to Christmas day Divine Service tomorrow at 9 AM. Merry Christmas.
This was the message from our Christmas Eve service of lessons and carols. The sermon references many of the key lines from the lessons and how the carols reflect the teaching. I think it stands on its own, but you don’t get the candles and Silent Night.
Biblical Texts: John 1:1-5,9-14; Isaiah 42:1-3; Luke 2:8-20; John 8:12,12:35-36,46
Full Sermon Draft
I reread this sermon. In my head it is about as tight a presentation of the gospel as I’ve given. But I am also pretty sure it was only able to be heard by those who had ears already.
The Angelic Pronouncement
Text: Luke 2:10
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luk 2:10 ESV)
The people…which people? I hate to be a grammar scold on Christmas Eve – that’s like being the parent who gets to give the socks and underwear.
But it is not all the peoples. The angels’ pronouncement is not a multi-culturalist parade, at least not in a Disney, it’s a small world after-all, way. It is not all people – the angel choirs cannot be claimed to be universalists. The angel pronouncement is specific – the people. “Fear not and pay attention – I bring you good news of great joy – for all the people.” Who gets the good news? Who gets the joy?
To understand that requires looking at what the claim of Christmas is – what is the angels’ pronouncement?
Today, to you, has been born a Savior. This baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger is Christ the Lord.
Everything – of heaven and earth, visible and invisible – everything came about through this infant. In the beginning was the Word…through Him all things were made. This babe is the Lord.
Caesar is not the Lord. Great Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census. And he had his purposes. His coffers needed funds. Support needed to be assured. The Cult of the Ceasar needed to be spread. But the Lord used Caesar to take the Holy Family to Bethlehem.
The regional ruler is not the Lord. Quirinius was governor of Syria and he carried out the census. The apparatus of the state – the smaller lord fulfilled their function – to bring the Lord to the town of prophesy.
The local ruler is not the Lord. Herod – “the great” – sought the child to kill it. One less Chirst. But the child escaped to Egypt – to be called out like Israel of Long ago.
The wise men of the age are not the lord. They saw the star and followed it. Giving homage to the new born king.
Even the heavens bowed down. That star rested over the spot where he lay. The heaven’s knew their Lord.
The creator of the stars of night – the Lord of everything – wrapped in cloths lying in a manger. The Lord chose the humble.
He was born of a virgin. Mary, 12 – 14, not yet wed, but pregnant. Trekking across the Judean countryside at the orders of gentiles, and taking up residence in the place of the animals. The Lord – not in the palace – but with the poor and oppressed.
He was announced to shepherds. There was no court waiting to greet him. No joyous celebration among men at the birth of a prince. No tables laden with food or games given to celebrate the day. Heralds were not sent throughout the land to the noble and grand. There were shepherds watching their flocks at night. And the angels appeared to them.
It’s no wonder that “he was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus is Lord. Not any of those people that claim the title, but the humble infant. He came to the poor, the humble, the needy. He came in the midst of squalor. He came under oppression. He came under shame. He came to us. He came to sinners. The Lord of all chose to become incarnate amongst sinners. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He came to us not as a conquering, vanquishing and damning Lord…but as Savior. His glory was not the glory of men and all those false lords. His glory is full of grace and truth.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace. He makes the nations prove, glories of His righteousness and the wonders of his love. The lords of this world demand tribute. The Lord comes with grace and love.
Behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people?
Which people? You. You who hear the proclamation of the Angels and take it to heart.
Jesus – this humble baby, born of the Virgin Mary – is the Lord. He sits on the eternal throne of His Father David. His reign will never end.
This light shines in the darkness.
All the people – receive it.
All the people – The Children of God – you Children of God – born not of natural descent but from God.
Receive the joy prepared for you this night.
O come all ye faithful. Come and behold him, born, the King of Angels. Amen.
Text: Isa 9:2-7, John 1:1-14 Christmas Eve Midnight
Most of you have probably heard me say that John is impossible to preach on. I broke my rule earlier tonight, but the only way it is possible is by picking one verse or one theme and then reflecting it through an epistle or some other scripture to help. Earlier tonight it was receiving. Christmas really is all about receiving. Receiving eyes to see. Receiving the light.
And that is what I want to meditate on a little tonight. Please forgive the cliché, but at midnight how is light a metaphor for Christmas, and how that light works on us.
Life & Death
“Those who dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined.” – Isa 9:2b
That word for deep darkness has been translated a bunch of ways. The King James divines translated it the land of the shadow of death. It is the same word as in the 23rd psalm. Modern attempts say deep darkness. One even tried death-shade. The word is used 17 times in the old testament. 10 of them in Job. 2 more in Jeremiah. And once in that burning prophet Amos. Just knowing where it is used tells you what “deep darkness” is about – death, destruction, exile. One of the psalms that uses it is about prisoners in chains in deep darkness.
That is where Isaiah puts us. A people who dwell in a land of deep darkness.
But on them a light has shined. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
That is the start. Somebody told us about the light – a little baby in a manger, the man on the cross, the empty tomb – and nothing is ever the same. The Father and Spirit have moved us from deep darkness to light, from death to life.
And that is a dramatic event. In our age a digital event. For many Christians an unremembered event – being baptized as little babies. But we’ve had our mountaintop experiences, and have heard the dramatic conversion tales. Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I see.
Goodness & Evil
“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isa 9:7 ESV)”
Another Biblical way we talk about light is good and evil. Nicodemus would come to Jesus at night – the original Nick at Night. Jesus would flabbergast him with talk of needing to be born again. “How can I a grown man re-enter my mother’s womb?” Jesus was talking more about that life & death metaphor. But Nicodemus wasn’t ready. So Jesus says to him,
“Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” – John 3:19-20
We understand the law. We might get it mixed up every now and then. We will try and mitigate its impact, but we get it. Bad men might glorify in their badness, but they know who and what they are. But in the midst of the land of deep darkness, there are Kingdom’s of light.
The promise of Isaiah, fulfilled in Jesus, is a new kingdom. A Kingdom upheld with justice and righteousness. We know these when we see them. Our literature and history are woven through with reflections – Camelot and Plymouth Rock, Cincinatus and Washington, Reagan’s shining city on a hill. They are always more filled with light in reflection and myth than they probably were in reality, but that is because they are reflections of the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem whose King was born tonight, whose government increases, like yeast in the bread, like the mustard seed, slowly, quietly until its final fulfillment.
Wisdom & Folly
The last way the Bible uses light is probably the toughest. People will envy you for your stuff or for your intelligence, for your looks or your luck, for almost anything. But rarely will you hear words of envy for someone’s wisdom.
I’m always amazed at the wisdom of the King James translators – which really goes back to William Tyndale who was burned at the stake for his wisdom. They had no tools compared to modern scholars who sniff at the texts they used – but they created a language that lasted really until it met the force of modern marketing that needed to sell bibles.
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (Joh 1:5 KJV)
The word they translated as comprehended has a wide area of meaning: more modern translations have tried overcome, understood, extinguish, and perceive. And those are all valid. The greek word is used in a variety of ways and he probably meant to evoke all of them, this being John. But here, he’s talking about a people not receiving. He’s talking about how the one through whom all things were made, was incarnated as a baby. Herod’s killing of the innocents is Matthew. To John, Jesus always knows what he is doing. Jesus puts down his life, and takes it back up again. This one came full of grace and truth. Not everyone sees it. Not everyone comprehends it.
In fact, the world looks at this baby and says foolishness. We have an inner light. We have our ways. God in this helpless child? God on a cross? God adopting us? God living with us? Impossible. The light shines, but the darkness – those living in a land of deep darkness – comprehend it not.
But the true light, which enlightens everyone, came into the world. He shines in the darkness. The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. We call him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts has done this. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts has done this…for us.