Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Eve, 2017 Come!

"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
A baby, born in a stable, forced into Egypt as a refugee, a carpenter's son, a rabbi, and one condemned to die-- for us. This one, born a savior, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords is our God.
A young maiden, betrothed but not married, stood before an angel.
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
"How can this be, since I am a virgin?" Mary would respond.
The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”
Mary heard, and she came to the manger.
Joseph knew one thing.  The child Mary had conceived was not his own.  There was a moment when Joseph was convinced that this was not right, that Mary had been unfaithful, and that it was time to take care of matters, and dismiss her as his betrothed.  Certain sins just cannot be hidden.  A child conceived out of wedlock is one of them.
And then he dreamt the dream.
And the angel said:
"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
Joseph heard, and he came to the manger.
They kept watch over their flocks by night.
Shepherds.  The working poor.  Living with the animals they were charged to take care of.
And in the stillness of the dark night sky they saw an angel.
"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."
And then a great heavenly choir sang out:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
The shepherds heard, and they came to the manger.
They saw a star, rising in the East, and came to believe that this signaled the birth of the one who would be King of the Jews.
They followed the star to Jerusalem and asked about this prince, where he had been born.
"In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel. '
The Wisemen heard, and they came to the manger.
And so we have the Holy Nativity.
A blessed Virgin.
A faithful Joseph.
Two who believed that “nothing will be impossible with God."
Lowly shepherds.  Daring to believe.
And wisemen, stargazers, astronomers, wealthy and privileged.  Foreigners.
All of them heard.
And were afraid.
But they came to the manger.
Kneeling there, they worshiped the newborn King.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Lofty words for one wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Of this one, it would be written:
That, “though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.”

That a baby is born -- nothing unusual about that.
That people gathered to celebrate the birth – nothing unusual about that.
That he would be destined to be king, well, even kings come from somewhere – nothing all that remarkable about that either.
But that this one, born King of the Jews, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
That this one would move from the manger and one day hang from a cross was different.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
Born in a stable, laid in a manger, and hung from a cross.
This is the one of which we’ve heard.
And for his sake we come to the manger, and look to the cross.
The miracle of this night is not of an angel’s song, or a Virgin’s womb.
A star in the heavens is no big deal for a God who created the heavens and the earth.
But that this God would come to us, and die for us, is miraculous.
We have heard, and so we come this night to kneel at the manger, remembering the child cradled in Mary’s arms, celebrating the life that was so conceived, and so delivered.
This night we are part of that miracle.
For the manger became a cross,
And the cross a table,
And on that table – this table,
Bread and wine,
His body and blood,
Given and shed for you.
Imagine standing with Mary and hearing the angel’s greeting.
Imagine dreaming with Joseph, the angel’s dream.
Imagine watching with the shepherds the heavenly host.
Imagine following the star to Bethlehem.
How can we not envy those so privileged to welcome Jesus’ birth.
And yet all of that, remarkable as it was, happened to lead us from the manger, to the cross, and to this table.
For it is here that Christ comes, full of grace and truth.
It is here that he offers us forgiveness, life and salvation.
It is here, as we gather in his name, that the Word becomes flesh once again, full of grace and truth.
The angel said to Joseph:
"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,"
which means, "God is with us."
God is with us—
                In the manger.
God is with us—
                On the cross.
And God is with us—
                At the table.
The same God, holy and mighty,
                Yet flesh and blood,
                Living with us and dying for us.
All this points us beyond the manger, beyond the cross, and beyond this table, to yet another incarnation:
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

A new heaven and a new earth, but the same God, with us now and forever.
This is the miracle of Christmas.
Come to the manger.
Come to the cross.
Come to the table.
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.


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