Christmas Eve.18 “For You…” Luke 2:1-20
First off, a hearty welcome to those of you that I only get to see a few times a year. We’ve missed you, but more importantly, you’ve missed a lot since your last visit—when was it? Easter? No, maybe Mother’s Day? Wait… Thanksgiving, yes, I’m fairly sure it was Thanksgiving that we last had a little talk. Good talk! Anyway. It’s you I’m especially concerned about this evening. I want to let you know that we do this “Glad tidings of great joy thing” every Sunday (and if you’re from out of town, I can hook you up with another Sinner’s Anonymous group that meets Sundays at a church near you every week too!). Yep! First Sundays of the month, here at OSLC, we even have donuts. I’d have the donuts every Sunday, personally; but the fear is that it wouldn’t be special anymore if we did it every Sunday.
Maybe that’s what’s bothering you? Maybe this is the root reason for your quarterly average church attendance?—the fear that it won’t be special anymore, will lose the high impact if you overdid it and started coming every Sunday (or, maybe even Wednesday evening bible studies too?—crazy talk, there!). You worry the joy might diminish if it became routine? I get you on this, I do. I had the same fear during college days; it really got me.
I’d like to tell you that I had an epiphany one sunny, Sunday morning my senior year in college; realized that the Glad Tidings of Great Joy thing only gains in greatness and gladness with repeated hearings—the more the better, really! and that made me start going every Sunday. It would be a moving anecdote, would fit great with this 10 minute (or so) homily. It has every advantage except being true. Truth is, I drifted into this ministry thing as about the only job I was suited for and it’s kind of a condition of my employment that I show up every Sunday (have to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day too, you see). The personnel committee expects it!
But going every Sunday (which I started doing at age 24—my Jack Bauer year) had a surprising effect. The Church Thing got better the more I went. The Glad Tidings of Great Joy Thing got only greater and gladder with habitual hearing. Surprised the heck out of me, too, I can tell you! These days, I go even when I don’t get to preach the sermon (though I have a little less fun at those services, I admit); still, I enjoy it a lot, even when I see oh, so many ways the sermon could be so much better… I kind of hate to say it, but it got more special the more I went, and the Wednesday evening bible studies and daily bible reading add immeasurably to the specialness, the Greatness and Gladness of the Thing too, for me.
I think it would work for you too—the habitual church attendance Thing—and let me give you a reason why, something to ponder in your hearts, a reason that’s drawn straight out of our Gospel for tonight…
I didn’t come up with this idea. I stole it from Mary, the Mother of God—a good person to steal from! Good artists borrow, great artists steal and if you’re going to steal intellectual property, steal from the very best! And I can’t think of any mere human closer to God than His mother. She is something of an authority on the God, Church, Jesus thing! Certainly she knows all about Christmas, having played a pretty major role in the Thing. Actually, I want to contrast Mary’s response to the whole Christmas Thing—the Glad Tidings of Great Joy to All People Thing—with the shepherds’ response to the Thing. I think the shepherds respond to it the way most of the world does; while Mary, she takes the road less traveled by—and I think Mary’s way is better and makes all the difference…
I can tell you quite simply what I see the difference as: the shepherds see this as news of the world. Mary hears it as news for her. Now, you all know the Story. You just heard it. Mary has gone with Joseph to Bethlehem, their ancestral home, to register for Caesar’s new census (so they could be taxed more heavily. What a wonderful thing! I’m sure they were thrilled to make the trip when Mary was 9 months pregnant!). Because there was no room in the local inn, Mary gave birth to the Lord of the Universe in a stable, wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in the cattle’s feeding trough.
And these shepherd dudes are keeping watch over their flocks that very night in the fields around Bethlehem. An Angel from heaven stands before them, and the glory of the Lord just lit these guys up, big-time! They were sore afraid, these shepherds—so afraid it hurt! But, the angel said not to be afraid: “For, behold! I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people: for there is born to you this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. You’ll recognize Him!—He would be the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, just over yonder.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying “Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
And the shepherds, sensibly, raced to Bethlehem to see this thing that had come to pass. They went, they saw (the drummer boy drummed?), they made widely known the saying which was told them. And then went back to work. Ho-hum! Mary, by contrast, “kept all these things [to herself] and pondered them in her heart. And boom! There’s your difference! The Angel tells us two things: 1) I bring you glad tidings of great joy which will be to all people and 2) there is born to you a Savior, Christ the Lord. The shepherds get stuck on Thing One, news of the world, but Mary is stuck on Thing Two: great, glad tidings for her, personally! That’s why the shepherds’ response to Christmas is to race out of the stable and gossip it far and wide, to any and all; but Mary’s response is to hang with the Newborn King, hold onto Him for dear life, like He’s a Treasure or something, bestowing superpowers. First thing you do with Treasure? Secure the Treasure! Pirate Code!
How does that affect their church attendance (or yours?)?! Well, like this: we never hear or see the shepherds going to Jesus’ Place, ever again. They appear to be one and done types. But Mary is in His House habitually… a regular.
It is easy to be like the shepherds—treating the Christian Gospel as news of the world: basic, boring facts about the Universe that once you know them, well, that’s that! The shepherds blaze the trail to quarterly average church attendance. Mary hears it differently. For her, the Gospel isn’t your high school civics text teaching the duties of citizenship (which are as best I recall: 1) vote for congress 2) support diversity and 3) fight the enemies of the state). No. Mary hears the Gospel as a marriage proposal straight from God to her, promising superpowers, forgiveness, life, and eternal joy with Him in heaven, forever. And I don’t know about you but I was bored with civics textbooks from day one, but the declaration of eternal love I got from the prettiest girl from sophomore English class is still my most favorite superpower. Repetition only enhances it!
So, ponder this, in your heart: what if Christmas is God’s promise of eternal love for you (and superpowers!), and not a civics text? Hmm? Then, we might see you next week! Till then, Peace surpassing understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Merry Christmas! Amen.