Christmas Eve — Rev. Karen Barfield

Isaiah 9:2-7
Luke 2:1-20

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.

Tonight we gather to celebrate that things heavenly
and things earthly
are joined together.

In the midst of the hubbub surrounding the registration of “all the world,” in the town of Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to deliver her child.

Since the inn was full already and (there’s no stopping labor once it begins), Mary and Joseph found a home for their newborn baby in a stable…a cave really.

A place out of the elements
but nevertheless desolate…
a bit dark and dank, smelling quite distinctly of animal.

Next we hear there are shepherds out in the fields, trying to get a little shut-eye under the twinkling of the stars, when suddenly they mistake an angel of the Lord for a flash of lightning.

They are frozen in the grip of sheer terror.

“Do not be afraid….
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day…a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

And suddenly the whole sky fills with the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

On this night things heavenly
and things earthly
have joined together.

Our one, holy and immortal God
showed up in the fragile flesh of a human baby,
not amongst the family of the emperor or the governor
but to a mother and father who found a birthing room amongst the animals.

Jesus came to us in poverty and humility.

There, in the hay, we begin to understand. 

Our God is often revealed to us by coming into our lowliest places.

This story of God becoming enfleshed in a human baby is here to bring us light in the midst of any darkness: in the midst of any poverty, rejection, emptiness, sorrow, bewilderment or sinfulness we experience. 

We are people who experience parts of our lives as dry and unwelcoming as that hay, and we are people who thirst and hunger for God to break into our lives in any way…in every way….from the grandest event to the tiniest sliver of light.

Three years ago on Christmas morning I was standing here preaching when the doors opened and one of our homeless neighbors walked in.

His name was Anthony.

For many months he slept under a big oak tree out near the garden.

He suffered from schizophrenia.

When I say he “suffered,” what I mean is that he heard voices, and sometimes those voices would tell him to kill himself.

When that happened, he would go check himself in to the psych unit at the hospital.

He told me more than once…I won’t kill myself because I love God.

God created me, and I won’t take away what God created.

But I know it was hard for him…living with those voices inside his head.

So that Christmas morning three years ago as I was preaching, Anthony walked in the door and right up the aisle, dropping his backpack on the front left pew.

He came up and knelt down on the step here just outside the altar rail.

I kept on preaching but could see out of the corner of my eye that he was looking up at the Table… and beyond it to the cross.

He knelt there for a few minutes and then he bent down and touched his forehead to the ground.

He stayed there doubled over before the Holy One for a few minutes.

He then raised up his head again and crossed himself.

Anthony then turned around,
picked up his backpack
and walked out the door.

It was one of the holiest moments I have ever encountered…
perhaps not unlike that of a shepherd bending over a manger and kissing a baby boy on the head.

As Anthony walked in the door,
all I remember saying was that God had come to us in a form that was accessible to all.

And that is the Good News that we celebrate this night,
this night when things heavenly and things earthly are joined together.

God comes to us wherever we are…in whatever space we inhabit…
in places of darkness and in places of light…
in places of quiet simplicity and in places of extraordinary grandeur.

So, do not be afraid when God shows up,
wherever or however that may be,
for God so loves us
that he sent his only begotten Son,
to live and die as one of us,
reconciling the whole world to himself.

When God was birthed into this world,
he found his first home in a feeding trough.

Tonight we will be fed by that very Body and Blood,
accepting the invitation to join things earthly and things heavenly in our own lives.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Amen.