The angel said to [the shepherds], “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.”Luke 2:10-12
This year’s Christmas Eve Service, with so many people watching and worshiping from home, reminds me of my Christmas Eve twenty-five years ago, when I was a student in seminary in South Carolina. My wife and I were looking forward to attending the Christmas Eve Service at the congregation where I was assigned. Unfortunately, our child, Katie, who was about 2 at the time, got a stomach bug, and we had to stay home. We stayed in our seminary apartment that Christmas Eve, and watched the Christmas Eve service on tv. Thankfully, the local NBC affiliate aired a Christmas Eve service live at one of the local Lutheran congregations. It wasn’t what we wanted, but it was enough. We watched and we worshiped. We gave thanks to God for the gift of our Savior, and we prayed for our little girl. The next morning, we woke up and celebrated Christmas as best we could. Little Katie seemed to know how important Christmas was to mom and dad, and so she did the best she could to enjoy the morning. But we knew that she didn’t feel well.
It wasn’t a perfect Christmas, but it was Christmas nonetheless. We celebrated the birth of Christ where we were, as best we could. What was important then, and what is important now, is that a Savior had been born for us. And isn’t that what Christmas is about?
Christmas comes to us, where we are, wherever we are, to remind us that God comes to be with us, wherever we are, no matter what is happening in our lives. Sick or well, happy or sad, quarantined at home or running free in the world, it doesn’t matter. Christmas, if it means anything at all, means that our God is with us, in the midst of whatever we are facing, wherever we are facing it. Christmas is God’s way of showing us that the love of God will go to wherever our world needs it – a manger in Bethlehem, a cross on Golgotha, this church, your home. Wherever God’s beloved children are – and we are all God’s beloved children – there is where the Son of God can be found.
What Difference Does Christmas Make?
Our world today is certainly facing challenges. I think we can all agree on that. We hope and pray for an end to this pandemic, but even that won’t solve all the problems we face. We celebrate the birth of the world’s savior, but there are many in our world who wonder what this savior of ours can really do for this world. What difference does Christmas really make? How can a child born 2,000 years ago fix our world today? He’s not here, solving our problems, is he? And his followers? They argue as much as anyone about how to solve these problems! So, what difference does Christmas really make?
Let me take you back to that first Christmas, back to where there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Those shepherds were the first to be told the news that a Savior was born for them, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. But when the shepherds received that news, do you know what they did NOT ask? They did NOT ask, what difference does this make? Instead, those shepherds went to Bethlehem to see this thing that had taken place. And they worshiped this child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
When they returned to the fields, they returned to the same old problems that they had. They no doubt had sheep wandering off, and wolves on the prowl. They probably had sick children, and worries about their families. They no doubt had financial concerns. And their government? Well, it certainly wasn’t solving all their problems!
But when those shepherds returned to their lives, they glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen. Why? Because they had met their Savior. They now had a hope, a joy, a light in their lives, that no darkness could overcome. None of the problems that those shepherds faced could hold a candle to the joy that they now had.
The birth of our Savior may not heal every illness, or solve every problem in our lives. But it does give us a hope, and a joy, and a light that no darkness can overcome. No matter what you might be facing right now: trust in this light, believe in this child, and find hope in the one who came to save our world, and to bring peace to us all.
Christmas matters, because Christ matters. In fact, no one matters more. And no one cares for us, and for our world, more than the one who gave up being God for us, and who chose to die on a cross for us. There is no greater love that this world has ever known than the love of the one whose birth we celebrate tonight.
We Are the Light of the World
But we can’t stop there, can we? Because Christmas, the birth of our Savior, is meant to get us involved in God’s plan for the world. Jesus wasn’t just born for us so that he could die for us, so that he could save us. He also wanted to teach us. He wanted to show us what we could do to participate in his mission to save this world.
As we worship from home this Christmas, we are still invited to light our candles and to give thanks for Jesus, the light of our world. But, as we do this, it’s good to remember that Jesus also taught us how to be the light of the world. He challenges us, in fact, to let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.
We can’t just light our candles, in other words, and thank God for sending his Son to be the light of the world. We also must let the light of Jesus shine through us into the darkness of our world; into the illness, the sadness, the violence, the skepticism, the doubt, the despair, the tragedies, into all that is facing our neighbors and our world. And if we as Christians don’t do this, then we can’t really blame the world for its skepticism. We can’t really blame the world for wondering whether Christmas really does make any difference.
Christmas does make a difference, because Christ makes a difference. But Christ chooses to make that difference through us. It is our job as followers of Jesus not just to keep Christ in Christmas, but to keep Christ in the world. And we do this by doing what Jesus did. We do this loving others as Jesus loves us. We do this by feeding the hungry, by caring for the sick, by comforting the dying, by listening to the lonely. We do this by loving all, regardless of what they have done, or even what they believe. Just like Jesus did.
Learning from Stained Glass Windows
This is not always easy, though, is it? In fact, it can be overwhelming. Trying to shine the light of Christ into our troubled world can be a daunting task. Let me share with you something that helps me personally. When I get discouraged about this, I often take a moment to go into our beautiful sanctuary, and to look at our beautiful stained glass windows.
I look at these windows, and remember something very important. You see, these windows have a dark secret. And that is that they don’t look like much in the dark. Without the light shining through them, they just look like any other window. But, with the light shining through them? They are transformed into what we see, into something beautiful, something that shows the glory of God’s only son, Jesus.
And you know what? You and I are a lot like these stained glass windows. We are not much, in and of ourselves. No matter how great a person you might be, you can’t light the world up by yourself. You can devote your life to making a difference in this world. But by yourself, there is only so much that you can do.
To really make a difference, you and I have to have the light of Christ shining through us; shining through our lives, through our words, through our deeds. We really are like these stained glass windows. We need the light to shine through us, the light of Christ. But when it does? Well, then any one of us, every one of us, can be transformed into something beautiful for God; into someone who can show our world the miracle and the love that Christmas is meant to bring; not just to us, but to all the world.
For you, for me, for all the world, Christmas brings good news of great joy, because Christmas brings us our Savior. So wherever you are tonight, and whoever you are with, listen again to the angel’s message that for you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Believe that Christmas has come to you this night. Trust that Christ is with you this night; shining his light into your life. And as he does this, let his light shine through you; let his light transform you into something beautiful for God, and for our world. So that the world around you may know the gift and the promise of Christmas. And so that everyone may know the joy that comes through the birth of our Savior, Jesus, who is Christ the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen