December 24, 2017 (Christmas Eve)
Luke 2:1-20, Isaiah 9:2-7
“Under the Stars”
After some last-minute Christmas shopping, Clara Null was rushing her grandkids into the car. As she was closing the door, four-year-old Jason said, “Grandma, Susie has something in her pocket.” He reached into Susie’s pocket and pulled out a new red barrette.
Though she was tired, Clara knew it was important for Susie to take the barrette back to the store, apologize to the manager, and put the item back where she had found it. So, they did just that. Later, they stopped for a few quick groceries. At the checkout, the clerk asked, “Have you kids been good so Santa will come?”
Big brother Jason said, “I’ve been very good, but my sister just robbed a store.” (http://www.epulpit.net/081207.htm)
We talk a lot and sing songs in this season about being good for goodness sake, but I’m not sure tonight is so much about being good. I think it is more about being open to the surprising places Christ will appear to us. It’s about looking around for the goodness we may miss otherwise.
Last year Anne Marie and I stumbled upon a surprise as we were driving home from the Christmas Eve service. We drove by the cemetery at Indian School and Edith and noticed luminarias everywhere. People were walking around the cemetery and it was so beautiful! We often drive around town looking at Christmas lights after the service, but we were filled with wonder and gratitude to have stumbled on this beautiful New Mexican tradition. We pulled into the cemetery and got out to walk around. I’m not sure how to describe the holy feeling as we walked among the saints and their loved ones. The feeling of wonder was palpable. There was something about being outside with the stars overhead and the candlelight on the ground.
The church is beautiful on Christmas Eve. The stars remind us of the shepherds who were simply doing their job outside under the night sky when an angel showed up to tell them something amazing had happened. Like the shepherds, we may be living our lives and in the midst of it, we may find ourselves awestruck by God appearing to us in a new way.
This evening is so special as we come together and sing beloved carols, light candles, eat cookies, and head back out into the night. The story we hear every year always seems so long ago and far away and yet last year, it felt very near as we walked around that cemetery under the stars. Maybe it was important for me to be outside because so much of the story takes place outside.
Mary and Joseph make an approximately 80-mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register. Remember they were not driving.
When they arrive and there is no hotel room available, they are in an outdoor stable.
The shepherds are in the fields when the news arrives. The stars accompany Mary, Joseph and the shepherds and light their way. The stars welcome the infant Jesus as he enters the world.
This week, we had a Christmas party for our Hope House neighbors. We ate and sang together. One of the women talked about hitting bottom and she said when that happened she learned to look up. We look down too often, but if we can stare up into the night sky and see God’s amazing handiwork in the stars and ask as the Psalmist, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4) This God who created the stars cares for each of us. This God sent a child to show us what love is.
We gather in this beautiful sanctuary every year to celebrate God coming to us in the most humble way possible. There is nothing exclusive about the birth of Christ. He shows up in the places where the vulnerable are found. Perhaps tonight he will show up under the bridge where a homeless couple have camped for the night. Maybe he will be in a hospital waiting room where someone waits for the news of a loved one. It could be that he will appear in the cemetery where a family grieves the sudden death of a child.
You may find him here in this room as we sing and light candles, but don’t stop looking for him when you leave. I encourage you to look for him when you walk out the doors into the chilly evening. Look up at the stars and remember how these stars have given light for generations.
Each week during Advent, we lit the candles as an act of defiance and we made a promise:
To be hope in the face of despair.
To be peace in the face of violence.
To be joy in the midst of sorrow.
To be love no matter what.
Tonight, as we lit the candles, we acknowledged that God is the light that will not be extinguished. We lit the Christ candle this night promising that we will be the light tomorrow. God’s loving power appears in our own vulnerability. Remember that God chose to come to us as a baby. It is in our despair, in violence, in our sorrow, in the places that it seems there is no love that God appears. God is in the most vulnerable places in the world this night. Look up. Christ has come. Open your hearts to welcome him and carry the light of this unending love out into the world this night.