This night is a night of hopes and fears.
Here in our beautifully decorated sanctuary, each of us has come to worship with hopes—hopes for this night, for tomorrow, for the coming year, for celebrations with family that can be joyful and fulfilling, but sometimes they can also be draining and tense. Our Christmas hopes are for happy and joyful celebrations, but we also have fears that instead our gatherings will turn ugly or sad.
Will Uncle Milton have a little too much rum punch and insist on talking politics again this year? Will Aunt Virginia find a subtle way to criticize Mom’s cooking, all the while with a smile on her face? Will the kids have a meltdown over a new game or a broken toy? We hope there will be joy, peace, harmony. We fear there will be conflict, sorrow, pain. Hopes and fears.
When I was a seminary student on internship, I listened as my supervising pastor preached the good news
on Christmas Eve, and I longed for the day when it would be my turn to preach this best good news of all,
when I would have the privilege of bringing, as the angels once did, the good news of great joy
that is the Christmas gospel. I could think of no better word to proclaim than the Christmas gospel,
the word about the Word, becoming flesh and dwelling among us. I hoped for this day, for this chance to preach on Christmas Eve, and yet each time I have prepared to preach this good news, I have also feared it.
Because it is a fearful task, a daunting task, to preach this best gospel story, the story of the moment when,
at God’s initiative, heaven came down to earth and God became human in the birth of our Savior Jesus.
So what can I say that will pull this message from the page and give it life, and send it straight into the hearts
of each and every one of you gathered here tonight? My hopes: that this word from God will be born in you and bring you
comfort, joy, and peace; my fears: that my words will fall short, that they will reach your ears but not your hearts.
Hopes and fears.
Fears have not always been a part of the human experience. But ever since the time when sin entered the world through our first parents, evil has been at work in our world, and with evil, fear and shame. But even sin, with all its power to hurt and corrupt what God created good, even sin has never destroyed our hope that one day, God will set things right again and cast out our sin. And on that first Christmas Eve, God’s gracious choice was to enter this world of hopes and fears, to redeem his creation once and for all, to save humankind from the fearful reality of our sinfulness and to set right all that sin and evil had made wrong.
And how God chose to enact this redemption says so much that is hopeful, so much that should swell our hearts with joy. Because God came not to the whole world at once, not through some cosmic event—like a huge comet, or a world-wide eclipse, not as a powerful burst of celestial energy. No, God chose to enter the world in one small town in a far-flung, unimportant territory of the Roman Empire, as a tiny baby. God chose to enter his creation not as a mighty king who would be feared and lauded but as a common peasant’s baby, helpless and small. God came to us in absolute weakness and need, so that we might know we had nothing to fear from God. God chose to give the redeemer of the whole world to a simple country couple who were just preparing for marriage—to Mary and Joseph, whom God chose to be human parents to the only Son of God. God came to human parents so that we might know that our Savior was human, too, and that he understands our human flesh and our human limits.
And when God announced this incredible intersection of God’s divine self with the helpless flesh of a human infant,
God’s announcement wasn’t a world-wide media campaign complete with press releases and social media buzz. No, God sent his angel messengers not to the courts of Rome, and not to the Temple, but to the lowly shepherds, people who had neither wealth nor status. They had no education, no property, nothing but their sheep and the clothes they stood up in. God chose the shepherds to receive the most important news that the world would ever hear so that we would never doubt that the angel’s message was for us also—right where we are, whatever our wealth or status, whatever our health or education or property or lack of it, wherever we are, just us.
In Martin Luther’s sermon for Christmas day in 1530, Luther reflected on the words of the angel from our gospel reading. The angel said, “to YOU is born this day a savior,” to YOU. Luther said that this joyful news should be proclaimed to all “those who are faint-hearted and feel the burden of their sins,” to all those who, just like us, come to this holy night
with hopes, yes, but also with fears. And whatever our hopes and dreams, whatever our fears and failures, God calls us this night to hear the message of the Christmas angels, this good news of great joy: To YOU is born a savior, to you, right where you sit, just as you are. God has looked on you with favor, and right here, tonight, in the little town of Batesburg,
the light of God’s love is shining. Here, tonight, the little Lord Jesus has come to be born in you, to cast out all sin and sorrow and to enter your life— to love you and never to leave you.
All our hopes, all our fears, are met by the light of God’s redeeming love. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth—right here, right now—peace to you, whom God has favored with a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Amen.