Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve Sermon

This is a rerun from last year, but I really like it. 
Where you see (Start Music Here), imagine Mannheim Steamroller's Stille Nacht playing.

I find this time of year to be very interesting.  We seem to spend so much time and effort preparing for Christmas, but by the time Christmas gets here, all we can do is cheer that it is over.  Christmas seems like a race, doesn’t it?  We rush to the stores on the morning after Thanksgiving to get all the sales.  We rush from party to party.  We rush to visit family and then we rush home to prepare for the people who are rushing to visit us.  In all the chaos, I am glad you found your way here to worship this evening!
Really, I am not here to try to make you feel bad:  We have the talk shows and commercials to do that for us.  What I am here to do is to tell you that there can be something different than all the hustle and bustle.  There is a different world out there just waiting for us!  The problem is that in our haste, we so often miss this other world, a world that is right under our noses.  Maybe this is one of the dangers of living in a blessed society; (and even with the economic situation we find ourselves, we are REALLY blessed!) we are so surrounded by so much blessing that we often fail to notice the blessings.
So tonight, I invite you to slow down and enjoy the peace and rest that is Christmas Eve.
There is a certain peace when it is snowing.  The snow seems to absorb all the sound and all you hear is the light fall of snow on the trees.  As you stand there, listening, you feel the slight tickle of snow on your nose.  This tickle is not unpleasant, but it does remind you that it is getting a little cold out, so you begin to walk.
As you are walking, the snow becomes heavier.  It is now also getting colder, so you begin to walk a little faster.  The snow continues to fall and it is hard to tell which direction to go.  Things are not familiar.  Although you do not know where you are going, you know it is better to keep moving than to stop.  So you trust and keep on walking.
Up ahead, you see a faint light; at least you think it is a light.  You walk toward the light in the hopes that is may be a house or at least a campfire.  As you approach, the light continues to grow brighter and brighter.  The glow is warm and twinkles off the falling snow, each flake bursting into a rainbow as it flutters by.  You continue to approach the light and it becomes brighter and brighter.  Soon it is almost blinding in its brightness, but strangely, it does not hurt your eyes.  As you approach, you begin to notice that the night is not quite as cold.  – As you enter a clearing, you assume the light and the snow must be playing tricks with your eyes because in front of you stands a great choir of angels!  They gleam with a warm and glistening light.  As you approach, you hear them singing!  They are singing, “Glory to God in the Highest!  And on Earth, peace to all of good will!”
THE FEELING HERE IS WONDERFUL!  You don’t want to go anywhere!  You just want to stay here and enjoy this wonderful light.  You just want to stay here and enjoy the music and the warmth!  You just want to stay here and be at peace.  But the angels are now telling you to go!  There is something even more wonderful to be found!  All you need to do is open your eyes and stay awake, the way will be shown to you.
And with that, the angels disappear.  The light, the warmth, it is gone.  The angels disappear and you are left standing in the snow.
The snow seems to be even heavier now, and after standing in the glow of the angels, the night seems all the more dark.  You stand in the snow, not quite sure what has happened.  But you realize that you have to do something as your toes begin to grow numb.
So you start walking.  You are completely disoriented and are not sure where you are going.  But you need to keep moving, and as you move, you begin to become warmer.  And as you move, you begin to see another light ahead of you.  At first it seems rather low to the horizon; you hope that is may be a home where you will be able to find shelter for the night.  You begin walking more quickly toward the light.  As you walk, you notice the becoming brighter and brighter.  But you also notice something else; as you move toward the light, the light begins to move higher and higher in the sky.  By this time, although the snow is getting deeper, your curiosity gets the better of you and you keep trudging along.
Ahead of you, you notice a village.  It seems the light you have been following has stopped over the village.  Although this seems strange to you just about everything that has happened this night has been strange.  You look down at the village.  Other than the light in the sky over the village, nothing else seems to be out of place.  But wait!  Out of the corner of your eye, you see it.  People!  People are coming toward the village form all directions.
As you stand there, looking, you notice that the snow has stopped.  You look up and notice the clouds have departed and the sky is clear.  Now you can see the source of the light that has been leading you.  What you have been following thorough the dark and cold of the night was a star!  O, what a star!  A star so bright that it could cut through the darkest, coldest night.  A star that has led you through the woods and now stands over the small village ahead of you.
You notice the people walking toward the village.  People are coming from all directions.  They, too, are looking toward the star!  They, too, are walking through the snow, following the light of the star.  Seeing the people pass beside you reminds you that you have stopped moving when you looked down to the village.  And as you stand there looking, you notice a chill run through you.  This chill seems even deeper now that the clouds are gone.  Or is the chill deeper because you know there is a warm village ahead?  In either case, you blow into your hands to warm them, and once again start moving toward the village.
As you get nearer and nearer the village, the light from the star grows brighter and brighter.  You notice more people approaching.  You cannot make out who they are, but you see them traveling in ones and twos or in small clusters.  They all seem drawn to the star and to the light.  You wonder if they have seen the angels too.  You hope they have so they, too, could have experienced that wondrous warmth, glow, and peace.
Now the wind is picking up and you feel it ripping through your clothes.  The air is cold on your skin but the light of the star seems to warm you from within.
You wander through the streets of the village.  Everything seems closed, locked for the evening.  None of the people of the village can be seen.  Maybe they are afraid of all the people streaming into their village.  You stop and look but all the houses are closed up tight against the wind.  You begin to move again.  Your heart burns within you but it is getting harder to keep your feet from becoming numb.  You need to find a place to seek shelter against the wind and cold.  You are getting desperate.  Whenever you stop, the cold sinks into your bones.  Blowing on your hands no longer works.  You need to find shelter from the cold world surrounding you.
You look down the road and see a barn.  The light of the star seems to be shining down on this spot.  The star!  Why have you stopped following the star?  You see the people gathering around this barn.  Although there are people standing by the door, a warm light spills out onto the snow. 
(Start Music Here)
You begin to run toward the barn and the warmth that must be there!  So many people must be seeking warmth against the cold of this dark night.  All the other places are boarded against them; this is the only place that is warm and welcoming.  As you run toward the barn, you begin to see the people gathered more clearly.  They are not quite the people you expect; they are the poor.  They are the homeless.  They are the lost.  For all of these people to be gathered here, it must be a very welcoming place.
As you approach, the people gently back away and allow you to pass.  You can feel the warmth of the barn and you can smell all those good, “earthy” smells of the hay and the animals.  And after the cold of the world outside, this warm world feels safe and welcoming.  You take a deep warming breath and feel the cold and stress slip away.  The warmth and light of this special place surrounds you and a profound peace sinks into your bones.  You close your eyes and relax.  With the chill gone from your body, you realize how truly cold you were.  But now, in this place, that is all just a sad memory.
When you open your eyes, you see something quite unexpected.  You see a young family.  There is the father, and the mother, and a very tiny baby.  The baby is so small and so fragile; he can’t be very old at all.  You cautiously walk toward the family but then you hesitate.  You wonder if you are welcome.  Dare you enter into the peace and joy you see before you?  Dare you disturb this moment, disturb these people?  You stand wondering what to do when the mother beckons you forward.
It is remarkably still in the barn.
You cautiously walk up to where the mother has placed the baby.  There was no proper place for the mother to lay the baby, so she gently placed him in a manger filled with straw.
You look down and see a tiny face.  Such a small face, such a fragile face.  But in that tiny, little face, all you can feel is love and acceptance.  As you look into that tiny, wonderful face, you realize you are no longer cold.  As you look into that tiny, miraculous face, you wonder how you could have EVER been cold.  As you look at that tiny, beautiful face, you realize you need never be cold again.  All the chill in your body had left.  All you can feel is an indescribable warmth.  All you want to do is stand there and stare.  How can one so small impart so much love and warmth?
Now you remember; there are others here, yes, but there are more who are boarded up in their homes!  Everyone should feel this love!  This love, this peace, THIS WARMTH is something to be spread to the whole world!
You look to the mother and you ask, “May I go and tell others about your wonderful son?”
She looks at you and smiles.  Her smile fills you with an unexplainable warmth.  She says, “That is why you have been brought here.  You have been chosen to receive this great love not to keep it to yourself, but to spread it to others!  Go!  Run as fast as you can!  Tell the world of the miracle you have found here!”
You turn and run out of the barn.  You feel more joy than you can ever explain.  You have been chosen to receive this great love and to spread this love to others!  As you run through the night, you realize that the warmth you felt when looking at the child stays with you.  The light of the moon lights your way and the love of the Christ child burns in your heart.
This is the joy of Christmas.  It is not the rush of gifts and parties.  It is the love of a tiny child, come to earth, to give us a love we can never, ever, understand.

After sermon, lights are out.  I will walk over and light the white candle on the Advent wreath and begin singing Silent Night while lighting candles in the congregation.

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