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Over the past few weeks, I have overheard many folks saying something like, “I can’t believe it’s Christmas already.” Some of us wish family and friends a “Merry Christmas” with as much gusto as Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he learns that he did, in fact, get the Daisy Model 1938 Red Ryder BB gun. Still others, for whatever reasons, share in the Grinch’s initial annoyance of the Christmas season, wishing our favorite hangouts would stop playing Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” and our neighbors would finally take down those decorations that now say, “Erry C-st-as.” Then there are us church calendar dweebs who promptly reply to every "Merry Christmas" during the Advent season with, "Not yet!"

Wherever we may fall on the enthusiasm spectrum of Christmas, we all find ourselves here for worship on this the holiest of nights for Christians. Whether we are waiting for family to arrive from out of town, are fidgeting in our pews with enough excited energy coursing through our veins to light up Lincoln and Who-ville while looking forward to opening all the gifts under our Christmas tree, or are anticipating grandma’s homemade noodles and dreading aunt Bertha's stuffing—which by the way, the dog won't even eat…. Or whether you will spend the next twenty-four hours keeping busy so you don’t get too lost in the sadness or madness of it all—
  you are here
    and together, we listen to the Christmas story once again.

On this quiet night, amidst the darkness, we walk with Joseph back to his hometown of Bethlehem.

On this silent night, we hold our breath and pace the waiting room while Mary pushes and breathes her way through labor.

On this holy night, beneath a canopy of celestial beauty, we keep watch with the shepherds, looking for the angelic promise.

And, on the night full of wonderment and joy, we sit and ponder “these words” with Mary—we are reminded of what this night—and why we are here—is all about:
            the JOY for ALL people.

It is a message that stirs up feelings similar to those when returning home for the first time after you leave: comforting because it is familiar but also strange because it isn’t what it used to be.

Comforting because the good news the angel brings to the shepherds is full of hope and joy—promising a new reality—a new way of being in the world.

Strange in that—nothing has really changed, right? Nations continue to be at odds with one another; political leaders continue to deny human beings their basic rights and their dignity; life remains just downright brutal.

And yet, despite the inn being full, an angel finds the shepherds working third shift in their fields and declares to them that God is about to reveal God’s-self to the world.

As the Christmas story did way back then, so the Evangelist does now—to remind us that the fullness of time has come—that despite the wars and rumors of wars, both communally and individually, God has gifted us with life. God has unwrapped for us the Mystery that was, is, and will always be… the mystery that guides humanity and all of creation… the mystery that the Promised one, who is the manifestation of LOVE, has come—not to condemn us or remove us from this earth—but instead to rescue us, to reveal to us the way of God, which is a love rooted in patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and—you guessed it—unconditional love.

However, the great joy proclaimed by angels and received by shepherds was announced then, as it is now, in the midst of a vast indefinite roar of armies on the move and restlessness of angry mobs and constant chatter from the crowds and can only be heard if we decide to listen for it.

What exactly are we listening for, you ask?

We are listening for the “Good News,” the Great Joy, which comes neither in the form of a royal birth, with all the pomp and circumstance nor is first proclaimed to the rich and the famous. Instead, the Great Joy is first announced in silence, loneliness, and darkness to shepherds “living in the fields” or “living in the countryside,” who were apparently unmoved by the demands of the emperor to register for the census.

The Great Joy announced to ordinary shepherds is the same good news proclaimed to us in a town like Lincoln, Illinois—that God came to us because God wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking circles but moving toward the house of peace and joy.
Tonight—but for a moment—all is well in our corner of the world, and the darkness is peeled back, allowing the light to touch the coldest and loneliest places of our hearts.

Friends, that is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to offer us comfort and consolation: we are not alone in our journey. In the Christ event, the incarnation reveals the mystery of Life. The God of love, who gave us life, became human not just to a people back then but for a people at all times and in all places so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles and can always trust that God walks with us.

The challenge, however, is to let God be who God is. A part of us clings to our aloneness, to our selfishness, or to our mistaken hopefulness, which can (and often does) prevent God from touching us where we are most in pain. So, we try to hide from God; we do whatever we can to protect from God precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.

We do not give God a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Therein lies the great joy of this Christmas story—that we need never be afraid to welcome the Christ, whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend, to be our companion.

So, I ask, church, shall we receive good news with open hearts?

Shall we allow the poetry of this night transform us from cynics to romantics, believing that in the Christ child (as with all children) a new life and a new hope coming into an old and weary world offers us a new vision, one that reveals that if there is beauty anywhere, it is here tonight as it was then?

My guess is that if we say, “Yes,” we will become living lights and will forever sing to the glory of God with shepherds, with angels, and with all of God’s people in every time and place —that unto us a savior is born!

May it be so. Amen.

[Adam Quinn, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln]


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