Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Eve
Preached at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, Indianapolis, IN.
The phrases “This is the night” and “Therefore, in this night of grace” are repeated often in the Easter Proclamation sung during the Great Vigil of Easter. The final phrase in this sermon is from the Christmas Proclamation sung during the Nativity of Our Lord.
This is the night.
This is the night in which, in ancient times, Jesus, son of Mary and her husband Joseph, of the village of Nazareth, was born.
This is the night in which Mary and Joseph, having travelled 90 miles on foot over a sequence of days, and bulging with pregnancy, arrived in the town of Bethlehem.
This is the night in which Joseph, of the house of David, and family of the residents of Bethlehem, sought haven and shelter with his extended family; only to find that those of higher social standing already occupied the small guest area of the house, raised above the filthy floor where the animals slept.
This is the night in which Joseph’s family, far from turning out the young couple into the night, welcomed them into their home; and though they could not provide a lavish or comfortable place to sleep, offered what little space that had in the house for the couple to sleep along with the animals, where there was a roof over their heads and warmth in the night.
This is the night in which Mary, without hospitals, physicians, nurses, royal attendants, or any other privilege of the rich and famous, surrounded only by family, experienced the excruciating, painful process of giving birth, a process in which her own survival or the survival of her child was by no means guaranteed.
This is the night in which that child, still without a name, was cleaned up, wrapped in cloth, and rested in a manger, the softest place in the house for a baby to lay.
This is the night in which God experienced birth, and the pain of being forced out of the warmth and intimate contact with Mother into the cold of the world.
This is the night in which God first wept with tears.
This is the night in which kings and nobles and the rich slept softly and soundly in their beds, while the poor shivered out in the cold with the sheep under a deep blue sky.
This is the night in which the announcement of the birth of the Christ, the savior and redeemer and buyer-back of the entire universe was not announced with trumpets and official correspondence, riders and horses, proclamations and celebrations; but to a group of poor women and men out in the country, out in the cold.
This is the night in which the good news of the Messiah finally here on earth among humankind was shared to and by the lowly and downtrodden, the least likely to be believed—upon them, light had shined, light for them to share.
This is the night in which, imperceptibly, almost silently, the world shifted just a fraction, just enough, just barely enough, for God to do something new.
This is the night in which Emmanuel, God-with-us, stopped being a future promise and started being the present reality; in which the presence of God was no longer felt only in spirit as it once had but in the flesh as it never had before.
This is the night in which the power wielded by rulers and governors and presidents and governments, by the rich and the privileged, by evil and death itself, was challenged not by an army or by good guys with guns or by laws, but by the arrival of a dirty child who could barely see surrounded by other poor, dirty folks in a backwater home; and this is the night in which that power lost.
This is the night in which God threw in the Divine lot with humankind over and against the lot of wealth and control and submission and compliance and toeing the party line, and instead drew a new line around those whom God created and loved and creates and loves and will create and will love and said, “These belong to me—and you cannot take them from me.”
This is the night in which the time for the defeat of evil and those who wield it for their own personal status and fame and gain was set—and the clock began to tick.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we sing the praises of a tiny baby, upon whose infant cries the doom of the world we twist into a terrible reflection of itself is carried.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we light candles to shed light on that which we cannot see; and to show us the way forward through perils unknown.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we carry on our lips the Word of God, the Word-made-flesh, the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Good News.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we bear witness with our words and our actions to the ways in which this simple birth has changed our lives.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we reaffirm our places alongside the Christ child as Children of God, called out for particular work in our daily lives to make ever-more present the arrival of God’s reign on earth.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we reject the ruling ideologies and demagogies that God-with-us came specifically to overcome and to free us from.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we proclaim “Glory!” to the newborn king, robbing the current rulers that glory they have wrongfully claimed for themselves.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we dare to work for reconciliation instead of retribution, peace instead of war, mercy instead of vengeance.
Therefore, in this night of grace, we take our places alongside the angels, shouting, “Hail, Prince of Peace! Hail, Sun of Righteousness! Hail, God-With-Us!”.
For now, in our own times, we have seen salvation and healing and wholeness and welcome and reconciliation and restoration.
For now, in our own times, we have had our joy increased.
For now, in our own times, the rod of the oppressors has been broken.
For now, in our own times, peace has come among those whom God favors, from whom we are blessed to receive this news.
For now, in our own times, the Word has become flesh and lives among us.
For now, in our own times, we have seen Christ’s glory.
For now, in our own times, we have grace and truth.
For now, in our own times, we have been born not of blood or the will of the flesh, but of God.
For now, we know there is no going back.
For now, we know we will never be the same.
For now, we know we can’t help but live the new life God has given us.
For now, in our own times, is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, God made flesh.