Friend: It was good. Christmas Eve service was fantastic. Why can’t all sermons be like that?
Me: Short and sweet?
Friend: No. Holy and warm.
Me: Maybe it’s not about the sermon. Maybe it’s about the people hearing the sermon.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the Christmas Eve service marks the point of the holiday season where I can finally put on the brakes. No more gift shopping or shipping, holiday baking, finding something to wear to so-and-so’s Christmas party. Christmas Eve service is when I’m gathered with family in a candlelit venue (ours is a junior high cafeteria–yours may be a church building) and FINALLY turn my heart towards the reason for the season. Oh, I’ve been MEANING to focus on Jesus daily…But, you know, I’ve been BUSY! Now I have time for the Christmas story. I’m done with all MY stuff. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?
Maybe not. Maybe if I were to approach each day with the gratitude worthy of the sacrifice God made for me, for you, then every sermon would be like the Christmas Eve sermon–Holy and Warm. Maybe if we approached each Sunday morning as an opportunity to worship a God whose love is so compelling, so intimate, so extravagant that we would allow our hearts to be captured. For the first time or for the hundredth.
I’ve been asked to introduce a song tonight at our Christmas Eve service, and I’d like to share my little intro with you as well.
The song is O Little Town of Bethlehem. It was written by well known American preacher Phillip Brooks in 1868 several years after a trip to the Holy Land. Spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and worshipping in the Church of the Nativity, thought to be the place of Christ’s birth, left a lasting impression on him. Three years later, he was searching for a new carol for his children to sing in their Sunday School Christmas program. With his visit to the Holy Land still a vivid memory, he was inspired to write this text.
Brooks gave a copy of the carol to his organist and Sunday School superintendent, Lewis H. Redner and asked him to compose a simple melody that children could easily sing. Redner struggled to contrive just the right tune for his pastor’s text. On the evening before the program was to be given, he awoke from his sleep and wrote the present melody, insisting that the tune was a gift from heaven. The carol was an immediate favorite with the children, and continues to be a favorite with children and adults to this day.
O little town of Bethlehem How still we see thee lie Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight
For Christ is born of Mary And gathered all above While mortals sleep, the angels keep Their watch of wondering love O morning stars together Proclaim the holy birth And praises sing to God the King And Peace to men on earth
How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of His heaven. No ear may his His coming, But in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive him still, The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem Descend to us, we pray Cast out our sin and enter in Be born to us today We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel
In this age of information, books and television shows might lead you to believe that the Nativity story is a complicated one, sighting archeological and historical evidence of every minute detail; calling into question the number of wise men and various other details within the story. But the truth of the matter is this – The story of the birth of Christ is simple yet powerful. God came to earth, born of the Virgin Mary to save us.
The same could be said about our faith. While following Christ is not always easy, it is most assuredly simple:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ~ Mark 12:30-31
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16