Sermons for Christmas Eve 2021
On Christmas Eve 2021 I preached two different sermons; here are both of them.
“I want a simple Christmas” (7:00 pm)
I wonder what Mary was like the next morning. She’s a little frazzled; she says to Joseph, “I didn’t get a wink of sleep. First all those shepherds came with their story, and then there was that star shining right over us. And just as I was getting Jesus to sleep, some kid showed up and started banging a drum! I have to nurse the baby now; can you get me something to eat?”
If there was a little drummer boy crowded in among the sheep and cattle, I hope he played softly. I wonder who else was there who doesn’t show up in the Gospel. St. Nicholas wasn’t born yet. Even though the Magi in our Nativity set have arrived, they actually probably didn’t show up for some months yet. Any of you women who have given birth understand what Mary went through and any of you men who have been present at a birth can sympathize with Joseph. Would they have wanted all those visitors right away?
I’m glad you and I are here. Every year we stop and focus on this simple story for an evening, and then get on with our lives. Last year was unique; Christmas wasn’t so much a pause as it was another moment in a long series of pauses, but things have gotten crazy again. We went to hear Camille Metoyer-Moten’s program Christmas in My Heart and she sang an original song, “A Simpler Christmas.” It stuck with me, because you and I have allowed Christmas to become so complicated. From the child of Mary snoozing in a manger while his Mother and her husband listen to shepherds tell a wild tale of angels singing, to a donkey and a drummer boy and a big dinner with relatives you may not like all that much or perhaps spending too much time in the car trying to make everyone in the family happy and hoping that Aunt Margaret will actually like the present you got her and did someone remember to buy eggnog?
Camille’s song wished for a simple Christmas of celebrating that the Light of God has come into the world, “just the two of us” enjoying being together and not worrying about presents. And at Christmas I often find myself asking, “Do we have to do all that?” and wanting a simple celebration in the Church. Well, for that matter, I not only want a simple Christmas, I want a simple Christianity. During the height of the pandemic, things got very simple in our personal lives, in the Church, in work and school and family. We stopped doing a lot of things. Before gearing up to do it all again, can we ask ourselves how much we really need to do? I’m sure we don’t want to be as isolated as we were, but if we stopped doing something at church or school or work or home can we ask the simple question, “Do we have to do that?” before we start doing it again? Or is it already too late? No; it’s never too late to stop and ask the question, “Does it have to be that complicated?”
As the preacher who wants a simple Christmas and a simple Christianity I seek to lay no burden on you or me but this: if you want to be a Christian, then do what you can to live as a follower of Christ. My head immediately fills with implications and consequences, but let’s keep them quiet. We celebrate the birth of someone special, and we celebrate because he means something special to us. For this evening, that means holding a candle and singing, “Silent Night.” What will that mean a week from Sunday? What will it mean next August?
I want a simple Christmas. A Christmas in which we remember what it’s about. One more story, and then I’ll stop. A Christian lady was talking with me and telling me about her struggles with her abusive and controlling family. And one issue was their demand that she be present with them at Christmas when didn’t want to be. She said to me, “Christmas is a religious holiday, isn’t it? Can’t I go to Church or do I have to be with my family?”
You and I make our choices about how we observe Christmas and the rest of the year, too. I want a simple Christmas, a Christmas that is about Christ. I want a Church that is about Christ. I want a life that is about Christ.
Mary, Did You Know? (11:00 pm)
Luke 2:1-20 and Revelation 17-18
At some point in the last few weeks you have probably heard that lovely song from 1991, “Mary, Did You Know?” It asks Mary if she knew that the child she delivered would deliver her, if she knew that the face she kissed was the face of God. Some folks have spoken for Mary and said, “I sure did know! I sang about it months before he was born!”
Well, yes. And no. Yes, that night in Bethlehem she was aware the child was a gift from God; the angel had told her he would be the heir of David and would be called the Son of the Most High. But did she have a clear picture of the entire road? I don’t think so; as she held him and nursed him and sang to him, she didn’t see the Cross.
But she saw more than you and I often do. Those of you keeping up with the Year of the Bible have noticed that the readings for today and tomorrow are about the Fall of Babylon the Great, the collapse of its merchant empire, the judgment of God upon it for its oppressions of others. Mary did sing about that; she sang:
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
Having filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)
In seeing the Son of David, the Messiah, promised to a peasant woman from Nazareth, Mary saw God overthrowing empires and world-class economies to redeem the weak and the humble.
That’s a lot of expectation for a baby who spends his first night in a manger. But that baby is up to all the expectation we have of him: Mary sees him overthrowing nations; Simeon sees him piercing her soul with grief and revealing the secret plans of the powerful; Anna sees him bringing about redemption. What expectations do you have of him?
One year, early in Advent, I had a very strange thought. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with this desire: “I don’t want Jesus to be born this year.” As I thought of Christmas to come, I saw close behind it Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; I saw Jesus tempted in the desert, beaten with whips, and nailed to the Cross. When it happens to him, we who love him experience it too. And I wasn’t ready for that, not that year.
But Christmas came, and so did Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. And Easter too, of course. I don’t imagine Mary knew all that when she kissed Jesus’ forehead, wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in the manger. But she was there for it all. She saw it. And on the Day of Pentecost, when those who stayed true to Jesus were gathered in hope, Mary was with them. When the crisis came, Mary was there; she knew. And she treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. That is what truly matters.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master