December 24, 2022
5A Christmas Eve
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” [When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.] Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
We are all familiar with, have listened to, and sung so many endearing and enduring Christmas carols. Among them all, one touched me this year in a new way. It was one of those sung before the start of our liturgy this evening – O Holy Night. As I listen to it, one phrase caught my attention. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”
Over 2000 years ago, Jesus, the Son of God, was born into a weary world. So many of God’s children were being held captive in so many prisons. Prisons both of personal sin and the many prisons constructed and maintained by the social order. Occupying forces-controlled communities of people. Murderous armies vanquished so many innocent lives. The poor abounded and lived at the bidding and mercy of the rich. Slavery was an acceptable social institution. Justice and righteousness were everywhere in short supply. Yes, indeed, it was a weary world.
But when we think about, is it not so very true that the world in which we find ourselves living today, is an “Oh so weary world” on so many fronts and in so many ways. I don’t have to name them. We all know the many forces and systems that sap our psychic, emotional, and spiritual energy, and challenge our capacity to be optimistic about a new and different tomorrow.
Yes, it is indeed hard to sustain optimism in the world according to us. But there is an alternative to optimism. This holy night invites us to renew not our optimism, but our hope. That is exactly why the Child was born. He was born that we might live our lives with a sure and certain hope for tomorrow. Optimism can be challenged and even crushed, but hope has a power to endure and survive.
The angels proclaimed this message to the shepherds, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
I have no intention of trying to explain Christmas tonight. I am not sure I know how to. Christmas is not something to be explained. It just does not make sense. The gift of Christmas cannot be understood by logic and the rational mind. Christmas can only be experienced, and that is what I want us to do tonight. I want us to experience Christmas.
I am going to ask you to do something. I will do it first and then I want you to do it. It may sound a little strange or unusual, but I hope you will indulge me the favor. I think it will help us all to make sense out of Christmas. Are you ready?
Did you see what I did? I touched someone and said, “Yes”. That is all I want you to do. Turn to someone near you, touch them, and simply say “yes”. Pass it down the pew. Don’t let there be anyone here who is not given a “yes”. Make sure everyone gets a “yes”. It doesn’t matter who you are, why you are here, or what you believe, you get a “yes”.
Do you know what just happened? You received what the shepherds received that night. You received and passed on the good news that the angels spoke. You just experienced the Christmas story. Admittedly it is not the usual story we tell or have been told. “Yes”, is the story behind the story. This child we receive and whose birth we celebrate on this holy night is the very embodiment of God’s “yes” to all people.
This child will spend the rest of his life saying “yes:” yes to the poor, yes to the hungry, yes to those who weep, yes to the sinner, yes to the pure in heart, yes to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, yes to the peace makers, yes to the outsiders and the outcastes, yes to the wedding couple who ran out of wine, yes to the lepers, yes to the prostitutes and tax collectors, yes to the hungry 5000 thousand, yes to the demon possessed, yes to the woman caught in adultery, yes to Lazarus, yes to the woman at the well, yes to the blind Bartimaeus, yes to the hemorrhaging woman, yes to the centurion’s servant, yes to the widows, yes to the paralyzed man, yes to Nicodemus, yes to Martha and Mary, yes to Peter, James and John, yes to Thomas, yes to Judas, and yes to you and me.
Jesus is God’s “yes” to us and to this weary world. Regardless of who you are, where you are from, what you have done or left undone, or what is happening in your life today, you get a yes. There is no one who does not get a yes.
That yes is the gift of Christmas, and it is a yes that is unconditional. It is pure gift. That yes comes to us as love, acceptance, forgiveness, and His abiding presence. And God’s yes to you and me always comes without an “if”, a “when”, or a “why”. God’s yes, the Christmas Gift, of which all the gifts we give are but tokens and symbols, never comes wrapped in an economy of transaction. Let me explain what I mean by that.
We live in a world in which you pay for what you want. We are expected to return the favor, pay off the debt, or reciprocate in some way. We write contracts to ensure that the books will remain balanced. In short, you get what you pay for. But that is not God’s world or God’s way.
God does not love you if you are worthy of being loved. God loves unconditionally.
God does not accept you when you have proven yourself acceptable. God’s acceptance is unconditional.
God does not forgive after you have changed your ways. God just forgives.
God does not show up because you said your prayers or had enough faith. God’s presence is without conditions.
There are no prerequisites to God’s yes. That’s the gift of this holy night; God’s unconditional yes.
It is like the story about a grandfather and his four-year-old granddaughter. He went to visit her, and she asked. “Pops, why are you here?” “Because I love you,” he said. “But why”? she asked. “Because I just do,” he said. “But why?” she asked again.” “It is just what I do,” he said. “I cannot not love you.” The child’s face lit up and she just smiled. She heard his yes, his unconditional yes. She understood that there is no why to her grandpa’s love. It just is.
That’s Christmas. That is what the child lying in the manger brings us. That is why we come here this holy night, every year. We come to remember, to be reminded of, and to hear once again God’s never ending and resounding, yet quietly and gently spoken yes to us. That’s the song of Christmas and it’s playing for every one of us, for me, and for each of you.
And do we not so desperately need to here again this unconditional yes.
If we allow ourselves to experience this yes, and to embrace it. then we have the power to make our own another angelic message. Do not be afraid.
A significant part of the weariness of this world has so much to do with its many prompts to fear. But there is an alternative to fear that this child seeks to elicit from us. It is faith. A faith that castes out fear.
And so I invite you this night to experience the Divine Yes and to live tomorrow with less fear than today and even without any fear at all. It is possible, for God is indeed with us. He is Emmanuel.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
December 24, 2022