The story of Christmas Eve, as we tell it in church and ritual, has order to it. Many of us know the story and have heard it again and again. There is a calm to the repetition, the songs, and the candle lighting. I love that part, and I know that many of you are here because you love it, too.
But have you ever imagined being there when it all happened? As described in the Bible, it must have seemed like a strange chaotic mess for all the people there. What we read is all of what people saw in hindsight, but at the time, I can only imagine what must have seemed like chaotic madness.
Can you imagine the 911 calls?
“Ok, I’m not into this, but I swear there’s some super bright star-like thing hanging up in the sky.”
“Uh, yeah, I’m not sure why I’m calling you? Or what you might do about it? But I was just riding my donkey past a field? You know, the one where all the shepherds hang out? And, um, I think I saw, like, angels in the sky yelling stuff and singing?”
You get the idea. On top of that, Jesus’ birth was not good news to everybody. In the Gospel of Matthew account, this baby was so threatening to King Herod and his hold on power that he tried to have Jesus killed. In Luke, Mary says her son will bring down the powerful from their thrones and send the rich away empty.
The whole story takes place in a time of Roman occupation. There was also infighting between religious and political rivals that looked more and more like civil war. It was during a time when disease ran rampant. High costs for food and housing caused stress for most but threatened the lives of many. The gap between the poorest and the richest seemed to be increasing every day.
My Siblings in Christ, we are in the middle of difficult times. The world is at least a little broken and strange and chaotic. It was never perfect, and we were never perfect actors in it. The world’s brokenness, strangeness, and chaos were always clearer to some with less power, resources, and privileges, and it’s even clearer now.
But, during the pause, when you think about all this and your heart skips a beat, listen… Even now, there’s another story trying to emerge from the one we tell tonight. Because on this night, this holy night, here we sit with a story about a time that God broke through. Through the injustice and oppression, the prophesies and fears, the chaos and the brokenness, God broke through. God broke through and, with a hope in us that knows no bounds, gave Jesus to the world to teach us and show us a better way. At this moment, we learned that this All-Powerful God’s power was love. God broke through in one moment of brokenness, strangeness, and chaos, and maybe God is trying to do the same at this one. I believe God can and, through us, will.
When we take the time to feed someone or receive the gift of food, God breaks through. When we work to change systems that cause people to be hungry, God breaks through. When we visit someone who is lonely or receive a visitor, God breaks through. When we express love to someone whom we disagree with politically, God breaks through. When we admit we need help, God breaks through. When we offer help, God breaks through. When we share our faith, God breaks through. When we listen to someone we are not sure we agree with about faith, God breaks through. When we recognize the humanity of someone who has been dehumanized, God breaks through. When we insist on our dignity, God breaks through, too.
This is one of the central messages of Christmas. God breaks through at times that seem hopeless when we open ourselves up to embodying the love of God and receiving love from others. I don’t know if it will always sound like a choir of angels or a parade of kings and queens; I don’t know if it will always look like a mother with a child in her arms; I don’t know if it will always feel like that moment when one candle joins many others… but it might.
This is the promise of Christmas. This is the promise of faith. This is why we celebrate, in advance, the wonderful things yet to happen. When we make room for God, God breaks through. Amen.
The Rev. Mike Denton is the designated pastor of South Congregational Church (UCC) in Pittsfield, MA. Join us for worship at 10 am on Sundays! Click here if you’d like to donate to the church and its ministries!