A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Lesson I: Isaiah 11:1-9
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Lesson II: Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Lesson III: Luke 2:8-20
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.
Lesson IV: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Lesson V: John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
No one who’s come to church at 10 am on Christmas morning needs to hear a sermon about the “true meaning” of Christmas.
You all know it; that’s why you’ve gathered together this morning: to worship the Christ-child who is Emmanuel, God with us; to be in community with others who share that faith and hope; and to hear this age-old story yet again, both through scripture and through these carols and songs that are so familiar and full of joy and promise.
Something compelled you to seek out a worshipping community today, to do more than just open gifts or lounge around in your pajamas, which are all very legitimate things to do on Christmas morning.
But you’ve come here instead, and whatever you are seeking today, whether it is friendship or peace, belonging or hope, or just a warm place to sit and listen to good music for a while, you can find that here. Not because of anything we’ve done, although the choir and our musicians certainly do a whole lot, but because of everything God has done, because of the child, born in a manger in Bethlehem.
As a pastor, there’s very little to add to this story. You hear it each year again and again; you see it depicted in art and on Christmas cards; the story is sung and read, and you all know it. My only challenge to you this morning, is that you not only know this story, but that you live it, that you embody it, that love and light become what guides you. Because while Christ was born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago; he longs to be born again in us and in this world this day, yet again.
Meister Echkhart a German theologian and mystic says: “We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.”
On this day, we proclaim that the wait is over. That God is indeed born. But, friends, only if we ourselves allow God to be born in us and through us.
This story that we know so well, gave hope to the very first Christians who told it quietly to one another in small house churches and upper rooms. And if we let it, it can give us hope still today. Because it is not a story of the past, but of our present and of our future.
It is a story of transformation, an ushering in of a new world order, a story of a revolution, not fought with weapons of war, but with love, forgiveness, mercy and healing. A revolution, brought on not by force and might or powerful men who make promises of greatness, but by two pregnant women, (Mary and Elizabeth) and the subsequent births of their babies: the Message and the Messenger.
Let us not miss that this revolution of love had humble beginnings; that Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room for him anywhere else; that he was then exiled, becoming a refugee due to the power-hungry and violent forces of his day.
If we do not respect women and their bodies on this day, if we do not feed and clothe and house those who are homeless on this day; if we do not see Christ in those fleeing Syria and dying in Aleppo on this day, then we’ve missed the birth of Jesus this year.
Do not miss the birth of Jesus as he comes to us in 2016.
The next carol we will sing is “Once in Royal David’s City.” And the second verse says this: “He came down to earth from heaven, Who is God and Lord of all, And His shelter was a stable, And His cradle was a stall; With the poor, and mean, and lowly, Lived on earth our Savior holy.”
Christ does not come for the powerful and rich, but for those who are the most vulnerable and at risk. And he himself took on that life.
So let us make room in our hearts for this Christ. Let us witness this Jesus being born to us this day.
Howard Thurman wrote a poem called “The Work of Christmas.” Hear now these words, and may it be a call to you this morning:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
So go, do the work of Christmas, this day and every day. You know the story, now go live the story, be the story, for this world needs to hear and witness that good news. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Amen.