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Christmas Eve Candlelight Reflections


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
December 24, 2017

Christmas is almost here. Jesus' birthday begins at midnight. The Spirit of renewal and hope that the Christ Spirit represents are in the air. And yet… We feel the darkness all around and need to see some light. This is the darkest time of the year, a time to go inward and ask ourselves how can we celebrate the beauty and joy of Christmas when there is still so much suffering in our world? Still so much uncertainty and fear?

Jesus was born into a time of deep darkness, and yet he brought hope and meaning into the lives of so many. Perhaps our spirits can be renewed in this dark hour so that we can follow this Jesus, the Christ, and the Christ Spirit within us to the renewal of our souls and to the transformation of our world. Perhaps…

Every year we tell this story and hear the innkeeper turn this desperate couple away because there is no room for them in his inn. This week I heard the story told of a little boy in a Christmas Pageant at the huge New York City Riverside Church when Rev. Sloane Coffin was presiding. The boy had only one line to say and he said it with great gusto: "There is no room for you here!" But as the cold and desperate couple turned away on cue, suddenly the boy abandonned his script and said, "Wait! You can stay at my house!" And that's really all we want to say tonight: Can we invite the Baby Jesus to stay at our house? in our hearts? in our minds, this Holy Night?

The Gospel According to Luke, written toward the very end of the first century tells the story of Jesus’ birth with details found in no other gospel. The story reminds many scholars of the miraculous tales told in Roman mythologies about the birth of Caesar Augustus who was supposedly the son of the God Apollo. Caesar was called a Son of God, the Savior of the World, the Lord of Lords and a bringer of Peace; but with Caesar it was peace through conquest and violence, rather than Peace through Love and Justice. Jesus birth story was meant to declare a rebellion against the power of the Empire he was born into.

Luke tells us Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem for the census. In Matthew’s gospel they already lived in Bethlehem and Jesus was born at home. But here we are told that this royal family, in the line of King David, had to find shelter in a barn There was no room for them at the inn. His first bed was a feeding trough, a manger.

Giving birth nearly alone in a stable must have been terrifying for both Mary and Joseph. Death in childbirth for mother or child were common. We think of this silent night as so peaceful, so beautiful, that we forget the darkness of the experience even as the real joy of birth was so very real. This is always the mystery of birth ~ a darkness and a shining light. This is the mystery and the paradox we are here to celebrate tonight.

We hear this story so often over the years that it loses it’s impact. The most transformative man who ever lived was born into poverty in dangerous times. This is evident in all four gospels.

The Spirit of the Christ comes to us as a baby, to a poor mother, in a place that has no room for her. Do we have room for this child in our lives? In our hearts? Do we recognize this Christ Spirit within us this holy night? Are we willing to give birth to this new light within? To honor the challenge to Empire Christ's birth represents? Do we dare to celebrate the deeper and more poignant meaning of Christmas? Will Jesus be born in our house tonight?

In Luke’s story, shepherds are the first witnesses to the birth of the messiah. Shepherds spent all their time out in the rocky hill country with the sheep. Their lives, their work, their position in society made them the lowest of the low. Jesus would come to be called the Good Shepherd who leads all the lost and lonely into new life. But those first shepherds would have been humbled and surprised to be invited to this sacred event.

Luke’s audience was shocked by the fact that shepherds were called to celebrate the birth of this child. Who would you consider the most unlikely of guests to a holy birth?

God’s vision for our world turns the status of the rich and powerful upside down. God came first to the poor and the lowly. God comes first to us in our darkest hours, our time of need, when we are open and aware of our neediness.

‘And Mary kept all these things, pondered them in her heart.’ If this story is true, it comes down to us because a mother watched and wondered and shared with her dearest friends all that she had experienced that night. She remembered. She had known, as the story goes, since she first conceived this child, that he would be amazing. Now others begin to acknowledge his importance. Clearly this was a child who would be raised with deep faith and with the assurance from his family that he was born to do great things.

How different our world might be if each child was raised with the assurance that he or she was amazing and was born to do great things. We don’t want children who consider themselves superior and entitled but rather children so loved and valued that they know love and justice is their birthright and their calling. Would we have turned out differently if our families had truly believed we were the sons and daughters of God?

That question draws us into the essential teachings of this Christ, this baby who grew into a man, who taught us to love our enemies, to do to others as we would have them do to us, who called for peace in the midst of a violent world.

He called his followers his friends and told them each that they would accomplish more than he ever did. It was their faith in his love and the realization of his confidence in them and in his insistence that God was truly a God of love that gave them the courage to share what he had taught them and, in turn, to change the world.

We do this Christ child an injustice if all we do is celebrate his birth and remember him without responding to his teachings. He challenges each one of us to realize we actually are sons and daughters of God and are called to do great things. May we ponder, with Mary, the implications of this Holy Night.

The story of the wise men is not told in Luke’s gospel. The shepherds, the sheep and the barn are missing in Matthew’s version. For Matthew, Jesus was like Moses and much of his story mirrors what happened in that great prophet’s life. Moses was the adopted son of pharaoh. Jesus was the adopted son of Joseph in the line of King David. He was worshipped by magi—wise ones from the east.

We cannot know what really happened at the birth of this child. But we know he grew up to transform the world and continues to inspire us to transform our own lives and our world as well.

In this dark night, we celebrate the light of his coming. May we honor the Spirit of the Christ renewed within us and calling us to be peacemakers in our fractured world.

Let us pray:  Loving God, We come before you this night to wait with shepherds and wise ones and with people of good will everywhere to honor the birth of a baby. We long to renew our hearts and our lives with wonder, and the sacred miracle of simply being alive.

We bring before you all our worries, our cares, the loved ones we are missing this Christmas season, the hunger of children, the tragedy of gun violence, the wars in our world and in our own hearts. We do not call them gifts for a baby, but we know you are a God of compassion and long for us to place all our concerns in your care.

We bring before you our joys and excitements, the celebration of lights, the laughter of children, the abundance of family and friendships in our lives. These we bring as gifts to the baby from our hearts. We ask that you might use them to renew the Christ Spirit within us. Help us to live the faith to which we are called, and to invite this Christ Jesus into our homes this Christmas. Amen.