(sermon note: 12-25 sermon note)
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
What better way to begin our hymn-filled journey through the “meat” of the Christmas story, as I alluded to in last night’s message, than with the ending?! The part where the angels rejoice at the birth of our Lord, Jesus. Why wait to the end to sing out in praise?! Oh, what a beautiful day it is! Our Lord and Savior has come into our Lord to bring new life, new hope, new possibilities. And what more could we ask for at the end of such a bizarre year?! Who knew 2020 would be such an anxious, fearful, tense year?! I certainly didn’t! I wonder if I would have uprooted my family and moved to a new city and a new congregation had I known the ministry would have evolved into this radically new and sometimes scary reality. Well, of course I would have because I am a servant of God and I go when and where He tells me and He told me last fall to take that leap of faith. And what a blessing it has been to walk through this scary situation with this congregation! You have all so graciously supported my family and I and the ministry we share together and I am terribly grateful. Thank you! God has been good to us all, generously providing for our needs and diligently protecting us from a pandemic that has affected so many people. We, like the angels, have much to praise God for this year! And though the pandemic isn’t over quite yet, the year is quickly coming to an end and, believe it or not, there were many blessings from the year worth reflecting on. Families were strengthened, workers and students alike became more efficient, and everyone was more mindful and considerate to those around them. Yes, we had to sacrifice a lot of personal freedoms to adapt to the scary situation but we’ll regain those freedoms in due time. They’re not gone forever! Be assured that life will slowly resume in the year ahead. There does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel that is the year 2020. Rejoice! Be hopeful! God is good! God is faithful! The angels sang out, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” We are all his favored people because we know and place our trust in the Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And so we respond to the angels’ praise with an equally praiseful song, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Charles Wesley was inspired by the bells of London while out walking on Christmas morning.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the blessings of the pandemic was a strengthening of the family unit for so many families. Parents and children alike were forced to slow down their hectic lives when schools and sports and theaters and gyms and bars and airlines became restricted if not closed. Parents quickly became the primary teachers and entertainers of their children, roles we never imagined we’d play in our children’s lives. Amazing what parents will do for their children in the form of protection! And it’s not new to this generation of parents. People have always been super protective of their children. Just look at Mary and Joseph. They, too, were in a less-than-ideal situation for giving birth and yet they somehow found a place of shelter and protection. I firmly believe that God blesses parents with the necessary strength and courage to protect their children if only they receive it. Mary and Joseph received it, parents around the world during the last 9 months received it. The family unit is a sacred unit that is deeply loved by God. Together we sing a hymn that reflects how precious children and families are, “Away in a Manger.” Interestingly, it is a hymn that was, at one point, mistakenly thought to be created by Martin Luther himself. We know how much Luther valued families, what with his catechisms to be used by the father of a household to teach his children, and we know he authored many hymns but alas, this hymn was not written by him. Well, regardless of it not being composed by Luther, it is a treasured hymn well worth singing.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
As we heard last night, the shepherds played an important role in the Christmas story. They’re ones to whom the angel first appeared and told the news of Jesus’ birth. Poor, lowly shepherds, just minding their business, tending to their sheep one night, and suddenly an angel appeared among them to share the good news. It must have been pretty unsettling and disruptive, if not downright frightening. God can be like that sometime. I think anyone who looks back over the last year would consider it to be a pretty disruptive and unsettling year. How we went about our daily lives, our normal daily routines, was completely overturned and disrupted. God turned our worlds upside down, for sure! Why? I don’t know. As punishment for poor living? Maybe. As encouragement for better living? Maybe. I don’t know. But I do know it was a disruptive year. And I also know that God was with us this year. God never abandoned us to the chaotic events that unfolded. No, God was right there with us, encouraging us and strengthening us to change and adapt. The world is an ever-changing place. We’re never done changing and adapting to the world around us. Only in our heavenly home will there be absolute stasis and calm so while we remain in this world, we need to expect and prepare for change. Then it won’t hit us nearly as unaware as the pandemic seemed to hit us. Despite an ever-changing world, we also have a never-changing constant: God. God is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. God’s love is never-changing either. God loves us just as He’s always loved us and will love us. God’s story is never-changing as well. The truth of the Christmas story is sure and true and the story is best summarized by our next hymn, “The First Noel.” It’s not one of my favorite hymns but that’s because I think it’s unsingable. The words are solid words though. They tell the good “news” of the Christmas story. The word, “noel,” comes from the Latin word for “news.” Let us attempt to sing the unsingable news!
‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’
Speaking of Latin, our final hymn, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” was originally a Latin hymn entitled, “Adeste Fidelis.” Every year we answer the hymn’s invitation to faithfully come and reflect on the Christmas story. We’ve been coming for the last 2,000 years! It is an important story that needs to be pondered year after year. No two years are the same. Each year brings with it a new set of challenges and blessings. No one could have foreseen the challenges and blessings of 2020! And because the challenges and blessings change every year, we need to faithfully come to the story that never changes…the love that never changes. We might be faithful but not nearly as faithful as God. We get easily distracted by our sinful ways but God is never distracted. He’s always loving us and creating new life and possibilities. We need to cling to the hope found in him. Jesus comes into our world with new life and new hope and we faithfully come to him to replenish after a year’s challenges and blessings. I pray that you will go to him, seek refuge in him, and restore whatever hope you lost in the last year. God is good…always has been, always will be. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.