Christmas Eve Sermon
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 2:1-14
Unfortunately, our Zoom system chose Christmas Eve to break down and leave us without audio, so we don't have a video for this sermon. But scroll down for the text!
The words of Advent are so abstract. Hope, Peace, Joy, Love. We’ve been spending the last four weeks preparing for these things to come, sitting in the deep and nurturing darkness so that we may recognize and embrace them when they arrive.
But are we ready? Do we even know what hope, peace, joy, and love look like? Do we really? I think we have certain preconceived notions about how these things appear in our lives. Because everything around us has taught us those preconceived notions.
Hope is thinking our preferred political candidate winning will change the world.
Peace is the absence of war, or, in our personal lives the absence of conflict.
Joy is simply happiness, like the end of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
And love…well, pop songs and and those same movies and just about everywhere we look teaches us that love is romantic and magical, bumbling but sweet. It is meant for that one special person, and then a different version is meant for our family and friends.
But we don’t need four weeks of prayer, quiet, and darkness to prepare for that kind of hope, peace, joy, and love. The kind that would have us preserve our own comfort, that would have us center our own happiness, that would have us focus on individual fulfillment. The world makes that easy enough. Advertisements and tv shows and Facebook and Instagram posts bombard us with these ideas of quick and easy hope, peace, joy, and love nearly every waking minute of our lives. Especially during the Christmas season.
But the actual Christmas story, the one we just heard in the gospel today, teaches us something very different.
We need four weeks of preparation—year after year—because we need the practice. We need the practice going deeper, we need the practice seeing past our own limited ideas and into God’s expansive and challenging call to us in the Christmas story.
This challenge comes from the angels who arrive to announce the birth of Jesus. Did they go to the governor’s palace, the hall of Roman power, to share this news? No. Did they go to the temple in Jerusalem to bring this news to the religious leaders? Nope.
They went to the shepherds in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. The people no one thinks about. The people barely eeking out a living and going wherever they need to go to survive. I imagine if the birth of Jesus were to happen today, the angels might go to the people cleaning an office building in the middle of the night. Emptying the trash, wiping down the counter in the employee lounge, cleaning the bathrooms. Immigrants, perhaps, from Guatemala or Somalia. The people many of us choose not to see but whose labor we benefit from.
The angels come to them and say: "I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The angels could have gone to literally anyone in the world. But they chose to go to the people who so often live and work in the shadows, whose survival is tenuous, who have to hustle and do whatever they need to do to make ends meet for their families. “To you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
From those very first moments of Jesus’ life on earth, we are told that he is here for the people who are cast aside, who are looked down upon, who are so often invisible. To practice hope is to see the people in the margins, to lift them up, and to love them as we love ourselves, as we love our own families. After all, that’s all we see Jesus do when he grows up.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because this night, hope, peace, joy, and love come into the world not as a man healing the sick and turning water into wine. The good news of God, the Word made flesh, arrives in literally the most vulnerable, fragile form imaginable: a newborn baby. A creature who is utterly helpless, who is completely dependent on the people around him for his survival.
This is no “God helps those who help themselves” savior. This is no “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” savior. This is a savior who puts his life in the hands of broken, fallible humans. This is a savior who tells us, “I trust that you will care for me. I trust that you will help me survive and thrive. I trust in your goodness.”
And it’s true: it’s easy, it’s instinctive for us to care for an infant who is so clearly helpless, defenseless, who is totally dependent. But the angels in this gospel remind us that it’s not just about baby Jesus, it’s about the people in the margins, the people the world casts aside, who look to us and say, “I trust that you will care for me. I trust that you will help me survive and thrive. I trust in your goodness.”
And I’m looking out right now, and I know each and every one of us has been cast aside at some point. I know your efforts, your joy, your presence have at some point been ignored or belittled, and it has been painful. I know each and every one of us has been vulnerable, fragile, rendered utterly helpless at one time or another. Maybe from an illness or injury. Maybe from the loss of a job or a home or a relationship. Maybe we’ve lost someone we love. Suddenly, we found ourselves completely dependent on the people around us for our survival.
It probably wasn’t easy. Maybe it’s still not easy.
Oh, but this is precisely when the good news of Christmas is able to find a way into our hearts. When we have been laid bare, when it seems like there’s nowhere else to turn, when devastation threatens to take over, that’s exactly when Jesus arrives. This is what the Christmas story teaches us. This is why we’ve been preparing for these four weeks of Advent. This is why we’ve been practicing. So that we may recognize hope, peace, joy, and love when they arrive.
God sends us Jesus, our savior, in the form of an infant, helpless and utterly dependent on others for life, a picture of the most vulnerable among us, a picture of ourselves, and God looks us in the eyes and says, “I trust in your goodness.”