Christmas Eve Meditation, Colchester Federated Church, (Luke 2:1-20) December 24, 2020

On this Christmas Eve night, we hear the old story—the story of Jesus’ birth that can become new once again.  We hear about Caesar Augustus declaring that everyone throughout the Roman empire should be enrolled on the tax lists.  Because Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he had to travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea.  Joseph went to be enrolled together with Mary, his fiancé who was pregnant and close to giving birth.  While Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby.  She gave birth to her firstborn child who she wrapped snuggly and laid in a manger because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night.  God’s angel stood before them on that holy night.  God’s glory shone around them and they were terrified.  The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.  Your savior is born today in David’s city.  He is Christ the Lord.  This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”[1]  Suddenly a great assembly of the forces of heaven were with the angel praising God.  Once the shepherds recovered from these sudden and shocking events, they hurried to Bethlehem.  Those shepherds found Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger just as the angel had told them.  Everyone who heard what happened was amazed at what the shepherds shared.  Mary committed these things to memory, considering them carefully in her heart.  And those shepherds returned home, praising God for the miracle of it all.

We’ve heard this story of Jesus’ birth and the announcement to the shepherds so many times.  We hear the Christmas story year after year.  But it hopefully never gets old.  Because it’s such a beautiful story.  Though it’s a story that we are not hearing while sitting together in our beautifully decorated church sanctuary, surrounded by family and friends this December 24th.  We aren’t looking at one another’s beautiful faces illuminated by candlelight as we sing “Silent Night”—one of my favorite moments of the whole church year!  We aren’t wishing each other “Merry Christmas” in person as we walk out the church doors into the night.

This is a quiet Christmas Eve, perhaps unlike anything we have experienced before (or hopefully will again, if we’re honest.)  These are troubling times in which we are living.  There’s no need to deny this truth.  We remember that Joseph and Mary lived in troubling times under Roman occupation.  We are living in a moment in time when we have now exceeded 300,000 people dying in our country from covid-19.  Some days feel especially heavy and difficult as we contend with this global pandemic and the losses become real to us.  Because these are not just numbers, these are people who have loved ones who will face empty chairs at the table for Christmas dinner. 

We may have days where we feel afraid.  Afraid of getting sick.  Afraid of dying.  Afraid of losing our jobs and paying the bills.  Afraid of all the unknowns.  Afraid of what the future holds for our nation, for our families and friends, for ourselves.  That moment in the Christmas story when the shepherds are afraid may be especially hopeful for us to hear anew on this Christmas Eve in the year 2020. 

The shepherds were minding their own business out in the fields, guarding their sheep at night.  The shepherds were protecting their flocks from thieves and wolves.  When suddenly the night was illuminated by an angel standing before them, God’s glory shining around them.  The Gospel according to Luke tells us that their response was fear.  Their fear is understandable.  These are humble shepherds confronted by an angel of God and then a whole host of heavenly beings.  Though maybe we can let the reassuring words of the angel sink into our hearts just as it seemed to help the shepherds that night, “Don’t be afraid!  Look!  I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.” 

If there are any words to truly ponder in our hearts on this particular Christmas Eve, let these words from an angel of God be the ones.  Don’t be afraid.  Good news has been brought to us tonight—wonderful, joyous news for all people.  Wonderful, joyous news for you and for me.  Jesus Christ is born.  The celebration of his birth, yes even on this quiet Christmas as a global pandemic rages on ushers in more hope than we can imagine.

Poet Christine Rodgers writes in her poem “Covenant”— “The world is still wounded—one long jagged scar throbbing.  And yet this blessing.  This amazing luminous blessing in the shape of a baby comes to us each year.  Comes quietly, in the midst of winter when all seems barren and dead—bringing the promise of our deepest life.” 

This is where we see the perpetual hope in our Christmas story.  Because the world is still wounded.  We are still wounded.  There are valid and understandable reasons to be afraid.  It’s okay to be afraid.  Yet don’t forget that we have this Christmas blessing.  A blessing that comes in the form of a baby each year.  The blessing comes quietly when all seems barren and dead.  Though the blessing brings the promise of our deepest life.  The light shines in the shadows of our world, and the shadows can never overcome the light of Christ.  Holding onto the love that God has for us and the love we have for one another helps in those moments where fear feels overwhelming. 

So let us hear and ponder the words of the angel.  Because good news has been brought to us—wonderful, joyous news for all people.  Christ is born in Bethlehem and with his birth, the promise of our deepest life even in our most fear-filled moments.  Thanks be to God for this blessing.  And please stay safe, healthy, and well.  Merry Christmas.  Amen.

[1] Luke 2:10-12, Common English Bible.