The day has finally arrived! It is Christmas Eve. Perhaps there is last minute wrapping or shopping. Maybe the table needs to be set. Just one more batch of cookies! Kids who have been shaking packages for what seems like forever have almost made it. Sermons all over the world are ready to be preached and the table is set at church as well. It is Christmas Eve.
Whether you have heard the Christmas story read in the church for years or your first hearing was done by Linus with his blue blanket wrapped around his head like a shepherd, that story is why we celebrate. Many of our beloved Christmas carols and hymns tell not only of Jesus birth but the reason why He came in the first place. In Joy to the world, we proclaim the Lord has come. And the whole world rejoices...heaven and nature sing. Why? Because sin didn't just affect people. It has affected all of creation. There is cause for worship and praise. The Lord has come! In What child is this we sing the King of kings salvation brings. A reminder of just who Jesus really is. One verse reminds us that nails, spears will pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me and you. That is why He came. So even on the night we celebrate His birth we are looking forward to the cross, the real reason He came.
O little town of Bethlehem calls on Jesus to cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. This is what Jesus is all about, becoming the center of our lives and dwelling within us. An old Polish carol speaks of the shepherds who, ”saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true.” The best message ever was proclaimed first to dirty, smelly, unclean shepherds. Why them? Maybe because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Perhaps because He came for everybody. Maybe, just maybe because those 'in the know’ about all things religious would not have believed or shared the message. Martin Luther wrote a Christmas hymn that has 14 verses!!! It tells the whole story of Jesus, beginning to end. Many of the hymns we sing teach theology and Bible stories. This hymn is one of them. Luther was very good at this.
We even see the fulfillment of prophecy written in Christmas hymns. In a German carol from the fifteenth century, entitled Lo how a rose Ere blooming, the prophet Isaiah tells us in 11:1, ”There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” And the hymn tells us, lo how a rose ere blooming, a bloom of finest grace. The prophets have foretold it, a branch of Jesse's race; would bear the perfect flower here in the cold of winter and darkest midnight hour.
Angels sink Hark! and glory! All to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. That is cause for great celebration because without that, we have no hope of eternal life with God. Without that we do not have a way to return to the Lord. In a beloved kids Christmas song, we sing away in a manger. But it the third verse...be near me Lord Jesus I ask you to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray. Bless all the dear children in your tender care and fit us for heaven to live with you there. That is what all of us would wish for...to have Jesus with us every step of the way and to live in such a way that we spend all of eternity with Him.
We are called to go tell the Good news on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. And in perhaps one of the most beloved of all Christmas hymns, silent night we confess that Christ the Savior is born. It is a time-honored tradition that we sing this song in candlelight. Every year as I sing this beloved song, or try to sing it, I can see the faces of so many people I have had the privilege to serve in ministry. I can see both my mother and my favorite grandmother, their faces illuminated by candlelight. People from every church I have served, including the chapel at seminary. It is a collage of young and old, classmates and colleagues, people who are still living and serving our Lord and Savior and those who have joined the church triumphant.
I am always fascinated how one light can make such as difference in the dark and then to watch slowly as a warm light fills the sanctuary. It is, as Pastor Dick would say, a holy moment, sacred ground that we stand on. So, this night or tomorrow when you sing the songs, pay attention to the words. Confess that Jesus is Lord. Shout praises and thanks for this incredible gift. And remember, He did this for you.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W