Christmas Eve Reflection
by Pastor Chico Martin
Prayer: The Virgin today gives birth to the highest Being; and the earth provides the Inaccessible One with a cave. The angels with the shepherds glorify Him; the Wise Men journey with the star, because, for our sake is born a little Child, the Eternal God. Amen.
Our church tonight, so lovingly decorated by our tree with lights, and garlands and flowers throughout our sanctuary, humbly displays the beauty and splendor of the life, love, and peace of the eternal childhood of God, which we celebrate with our children and with each other, remembering that we too remain children; for on this night we are loved as children, and welcomed into the Kingdom of God as children, and the hope that we have held onto is delivered unto us, in the beauty and splendor of the good news proclaimed by the angels 2,000 years ago, when The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Tonight, we rejoice! Tonight we fill this building, our homes and communities, and all the earth, with the love of God among us. Tonight His promise is fulfilled, and we relax into His peace. We look outside ourselves and see the truth within.
Israel’s teachers believed that great things could be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year. Christians first began celebrating December 25 as Jesus’ birthday in mid-fourth-century. The dating is probably tied to the dating of Easter; if Jesus was conceived on the same day as he died, and this is the type of symmetry we find in divine history, then his birth nine months later could be reasonably fixed on this date. Augustine, in his book On the Trinity (c. 399–419), writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried.”
Augustine’s teacher Ambrose (c. 339–397) described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. For us, I think, this characterization continues to be apt. In the years since Constantine’s conversion (in 312 A.D.), as the worship of God as Christ spread, the festivities surrounding the nativity incorporated elements from indigenous folk practices. The Christmas tree, for example, has been linked with late medieval druids. The central tenets of the Christian faith, however, remain unchanged; these have their source in the teachings of the Son of God, born as the baby Jesus in what was probably a cave used for sheltering livestock, in Bethlehem, of Judea, and the word spoken by this Jesus is its guarantee of being true, trustworthy, and life-changing, for each of us, as individuals, and all of us, as God’s creation. So we sing,
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God
The new birth for humanity and all the cosmos begins with the birth of God in our midst.
Keeping this in mind, I would like to make a couple of Christmas suggestions. First, all of the joy we experience at Christmas is present in the church every Sunday of the church year. This is the case because the church is called and gathered together by Christ, not by men. God is always with his church, and it is the occasion of being with God that brings us joy. Second, the church is where we go to find love. This is the case because only God knows how to love, and in church, we experience his love and we learn how to love one another. Over a lifetime, we become more or less good at it, if we make the effort to put into practice the guidelines we get. We can understand Scripture as a manual for love. This leads me to the third suggestion: Scriptures, the Bible, can only be understood when we read it as a worship community; if we read the Bible at home, but don’t worship in church, we’re not going to get it: our lives will remain unchanged. To love, we have to get over ourselves. This means more than getting over selfishness; it means learning to see and hear outside of ourselves. The new life given us in Christ redirects our attention, from man, to God. The story God tells us about the world and our place within it is hopeful and trustworthy. This is what makes it good. Finally, then, I would suggest, church is where we find peace. This is the case, because God gives us his peace; we can’t just resolve to be peaceful and make it happen. Peace is a gift to us from God, and God’s peace is everlasting. So please, if you aren’t regular churchgoers, give it a go. The Christmas message is God with us; let us resolve never to shut him out.
In the Christmas spirit, let us pray:
Let us pray for all children in foster-care, and for the families and social workers who surround them with love, support, and encouragement;
Let us pray for all the homeless in our community, and for all who have welcomed, fed, clothed, and treated them with dignity;
Let us pray for all underprivileged students, and all the teachers and administrators who have invested in them and shown them opportunities, beginning in preschools and continuing all the way through high school and college;
Let us pray for all the marriages that have been restored, and all who grow in love through marriage;
Let us pray for everyone in the church who is training for lay and clergy leadership and ministries;
Let us pray for all the people have been trained to support and serve young women with unplanned pregnancies and all women who are victims of spousal abuse;
Let us pray for all prisoners and victims of injustice, and everyone playing a significant role in restoring hope to our town and surrounding communities.