If you have been following my postings, you may have noticed that I have been posting sermons/messages/thoughts from the years that I served the United Methodist Church in the Mason City, TN, area, the Neon, KY, area, Walker Valley, NY, and the Tompkins Corners UMC in Putnam Valley, NY. I haven’t figured it all out but when I get them my sermons (which cover the year from 1997 to 2005, the year I began blogging), I will work on some sort of catalog to link them all together.
December 24th can be a challenge for the preacher and the lay speaker. Because if it falls on a Sunday, as it did for me in 2000 and 2006, it is both the Fourth Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve. But Christmas Eve is a night time event so the morning belongs to Advent and the preparation for the Birth of Christmas falls for later that day.
In 2006, I was asked to cover the services at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY. The message for that day was posted as the 4th Sunday in Advent for that day at “Words of Christmas” but because the church does not have a regularly assigned pastor, the challenge was also to present thoughts that related to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well.
The first time this ever occurred for me was on December 24, 2000. That morning we had held our usual Sunday Services and had celebrated the 4th Sunday in Advent (I posted these thoughts last week at “It’s The Little Things”) That evening we returned to church for a Christmas Eve service. The following is my Christmas Eve message for that evening, 24 December 2000, at Walker Valley UMC (Walker Valley, NY). The scriptures for this message are Isaiah 9: 2 – 7, Titus 2: 11 – 14, and Luke 2: 1 – 10.
The problem with the birth of Jesus is that it is in the wrong place. Kings are not born in mangers but palaces. Kings are welcomed into the world with the fanfare of trumpets, not the soft looing of cattle.
But Jesus was more than just a King. His presence in this world was to be more than a simple ruler of people. And if he was to meet the goals of God’s plan, if he was to hold all the titles that Isaiah gave him, then he couldn’t be born in a palace.
The society of Jesus’ time was sharply divided by religious, economic, and social lines. Everyone knew their place and what they could and could not do. If Jesus had been born in a castle or with great fanfare, he could never have reached those whom most needed to hear his message of salvation, promise and hope. And that is as true today as it was some 2000 years ago. For Christ to be a part of our lives today, he had to be a part of our lives back then.
It should not be surprising then that the first to hear of his birth where those considered by society outcasts or, at the least, marginal. By the nature of their occupation, shepherds were considered sinners and outcasts. For the birth of Jesus to be announced to them was an important note in telling the world that this kingship would be different from all others imagined.
It is also interesting to note that among those who knew that Jesus was born were the three wise men from the east. Acclaimed scholars in their own right, they had come to know that Jesus was born through their own studies. Scholars among the Jews seemed to have missed this important prophecy. And by telling others outside the boundaries of Israel and Judah, God said that all were welcome, not just a select few.
Everything about Jesus’ ministry was meant to show people that God loved them and that their social or economic status counted little in that regard. At a time when the society around them closed its doors, Jesus opened the doors to the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus ate a meal, he ate with those whom society considered outcasts. Those who opposed his ministry accused him of eating with tax collectors and sinners. In polite society, that just wasn’t done.
The communion that we celebrate this evening is a continuation of those meals of fellowship that Jesus ate. Just as his meal were open to all, so to is this communion. No one asks if you are a sinner or a saint, no one checks your membership card to see if you belong in this place. All that is asked is that you come with an open heart.
What Jesus did was change the view of the world. No longer was salvation and redemption outside the reach of people. No longer was darkness dominant in the lives for whom hope and promise were long gone.
Jesus showed that God’s grace was for all, no matter who they are or where they came from. For us this day, the birth of Jesus’ is a sign that God cares for us. That is what all the shouting is about.