St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Christmas Eve 2016 Sermon
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Corby Varness

At bible study this week, we spent quite a bit of time wondering about something: why, around 2000 years ago, did God say; “Now, now it is time for me to get born as a little baby.  Now it’s time for me to go down there myself”?  This story may help us understand God’s thinking:  
           
A family is getting ready to go to church on a snowy Christmas Eve.  Mom stops and asks Dad one more time, “Are you sure you won’t come with us?”  Now Dad is a good man but he shakes his head: “Honey, I just don’t believe in Jesus.  I can’t see why God would want to come to our world as a human baby.  I just don’t believe.”  Mom shrugs, gives him a quick kiss and hurries the children out to the car.  They drive off into the dark, snowy night. 
 
Dad sits down by the large picture window in the living room and picks up a book, feeling a bit lonely.  Sitting there, he suddenly hears a loud “Thump, thump, thump, thump.”  Is someone throwing snowballs at the window?  He opens the front door to see what all the noise is about.  At first, he sees nothing, then he looks down and notices four tiny birds struggling in the snow beneath the window. 
           
Immediately, he understands what has happened.  Attracted to the light through the window, the birds have flown into it and have fallen, injured to the snow.  He knows they are suffering and will die soon if he doesn’t help them get to a safe, warm place.
           
He quickly puts on his heavy coat and boots and takes two careful steps toward the birds.  They flutter in panic.  “Hmmm.”   He looks around and gets a good idea; he opens the door to the warm garage, turns on the light and makes a quick nest of blankets.  He backs away, hoping the birds will make their way to safety.  But they don’t.
           
His worry increases.   His next idea is to lay a careful path of birdseed from the birds to the garage.  He does so, then backs away and hopes they will follow his path to safety.  But the birds don’t understand.  They continue to suffer in the snow.  Oh, he is so frustrated.  He fervently thinks: “I am too big, too different, too scary for the birds.  Oh, if only I could be a bird for just a little bit, I could lead them to safety, I could help them understand ...”
           
And he stops.  Suddenly, he knows why God had to come to earth as a baby to help us.  He sinks to his knees in the snow.  Now he understands.  God was laying down careful paths to help us and we didn’t follow them.  We didn’t understand.
             
Throughout history God had tried to communicate his message to us through signs, through prophets, through floods and whales and parting seas.  Finally God reached a point where he sighed heavily and asked, like a frustrated parent: “Do I have to come down there myself?  OK, fine.  I’m coming down.”  God needed to become just like us so that we could hear and understand his message.  So God became man.
           

Tonight we celebrate this beautiful story of a baby born in a manger to a young, homeless couple.  We join the frightened shepherds in the field visited by an angel who says, “Do not fear.”  Then there is a crowd of jubilant angels singing “Alleluia! The Lord has Come!” 
           
What would you do if that happened to us right here, right now?   Can you be in that field with those shepherds, having witnessed this terrifying, awe inspiring sight?  The next moment is so important.  The singing stops, the angels disappear.  What’s next?  What would you do?  I would be cowering in fear, covering my face, wondering if I were losing my mind. 
           
But our simple shepherds took one step toward Bethlehem.  They took one small step toward believing the angels.  They took one tiny step toward God.  They walked slowly at first, then they began to hurry toward the city.  Finally they RAN full speed to the baby lying in the manger.  They ran to God.  Remember though, their faith started with one hesitant step.
           
I believe that Jesus was God made man.  He came down from heaven to help us understand God’s hopes and dreams for us.  Here’s the message he brought: “Love God.  Love one another.  Love your neighbors AND love your enemies.  Serve the meek and the poor for they shall inherit the earth.  And remember, God loves you, just as you are.”
           
For teaching this radical, life changing message, Jesus was killed.  But people heard and understood what he said.  Lives changed as more and more people embraced his teachings.  Starting with just a few people in a time with no media, his radical message spread throughout the world.
           
 
This year, the time change has just been killing me.  I regularly call Kevin to dinner, only to notice that it is just four o’clock!  But it’s been SO dark, I think it’s much later.   For many people this has been a pretty dark year and it can feel as though there the whole world is getting dark.  Thank God that Christmas comes right at the winter solstice when our short, dark days began to lengthen.  Isaiah writes; “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.”  On this dark night, we celebrate the coming of the light of God, the miracle of the birth of Christ.   God’s love has come down to us tonight.
           
I believe that we are charged to bring God’s love, God’s light to the world through our words and actions and mostly through our love.  Tonight we will do that as we walk out of church, into the still, dark night, with our candles, bringing the light of Christ into the world.  Amen.



 
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